Face of New Orleans: The history of the Whitney Bank clock
In the days before atomic clocks and cellphones in every pocket, people needed reliable clocks by which to set their less-reliable wristwatches, which required periodic winding and often “lost” a minute or two here and there. So, as a public service — and to project an image of precision, dependability and wealth — it became common for banks to install ornate timepieces in front of their buildings. In 1926, New Orleans’ Whitney National Bank — which had been founded in 1883 — debuted just such a clock, featuring a reproduction of the Westminster Abbey’s master chimes in London, at its main office on St. Charles Avenue and, soon enough, at its eight branch locations. The Whitney clocks have been helping New Orleans keep time ever since.
By installing their clocks, the Whitney Bank brain trust wanted to suggest reliability. It’s safe to say they succeeded. More than 130 years after the bank’s 1883 founding, and close to 100 years since the clocks were installed, they’re still ticking away at 27 of Whitney’s financial centers in Louisiana.
- The original Whitney clocks were made by the McClintock-Loomis Co. of Minnesota. They are made from bronze and feature copper hoods and cut-glass dials.
- When McClintock closed in the 1950s, Whitney couldn’t find craftsmen qualified to keep the clocks’ chimes operating and they fell silent. By 1970, the brass chimes were removed.
- As Whitney added branches, it hired local antiques dealers to scour the Midwest for McClintock timepieces that had fallen out of use. Just such a clock, from the Indian Springs Savings and Loan in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, was installed at Whitney’s Holiday Drive branch in Algiers. Another, from a small town in Illinois, was installed at its Harrison Avenue branch.
- In the wake of 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina, digital chimes were installed in the clock at its St. Charles Avenue headquarters in 2006. “The carillons’ nostalgic charm echoed resilience across a revitalized Central Business District and a community coming back from crisis,” reads a company-provided history of its clocks.
- The new chimes have been known to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” every hour on the hour on New Orleans Saints’ game days, as well as seasonal tunes around Christmas.
- Whitney was founded in the years after the Civil War by 25-year-old George Q. Whitney, the son of a well-heeled New York family with iron, steamship and railroad interests. His namesake bank is recognized as the oldest continuously operating bank in Louisiana.
- In 2011, Whitney was acquired by the Mississippi-based Hancock Holding Co., which wisely maintained the venerable brand.
- Soon, the Whitney clock may grace another local landmark: In August, it was announced that Whitney will move its regional headquarters to the CBD’s 51-story One Shell Square — the tallest building in the state — and which will be rebranded the Hancock Whitney Center.
New Orleans is a city that is proud of its traditions, and those traditions often trend toward the reckless and the rowdy. Whitney Bank is a notable exception, and its iconic clock underscores its reputation for stability, sound decision-making and reliability. Since its founding, the bank — like the city — has weathered any number of storms, from the Clutch Plague to Hurricane Katrina. And, also like the city, it keeps on ticking.