(click to enlarge photos)
Along with Jean Sherrard, photographer for these weekly “now-and-thens,” I would like to have another BIG SNOW. The kids would love it. In the 165 years since the pioneer Denny Party stepped ashore on Alki Beach, in the rain, our temperate city has been capped with only two snows big enough to print in upper-case. The first and deepest was the Big Snow of 1880, with four-foot drifts dumped
from above. The second was heaven’s dish-out, the Big Snow of 1916, sampled in the featured photo. Aside from their depths, the difference between the two Big Snows was cameras. There survive, perhaps, a dozen photos from the 1880 winter-tide. But there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of amateur snapshots and professional “real photo” postcards that in 1916 were witnesses to its eccentric Big Snow. By then cameras were commonplace, and the piling snow, in spite of the chill, was an enticing subject.
Certainly for the featured photograph’s look north on Second Avenue, it is the 1916 Big Snow’s alluring banking on the Hardy and Co. Jeweler’s big clock that attracted the photographer. A second sidewalk clock, for the Burnett Brothers’ Jewelry Store, stands behind it. According to Seattle historian Rob Ketcherside, both of them survive in communities south of Seattle: the Hardy Clock in
East Olympia and the Burnett Brothers in Lakewood. Ketcherside’s study of Seattle’s clock history began about five years ago, and the origin of his scholarship seems ordained with a revelation. Falling asleep on a bus while returning from the Eastside, he awoke wondering what time it was, while the bus was momentarily parked beside a street clock. The historian also woke up to a new passion for research: the history of Seattle’s sidewalk clocks. Ketcherside makes note that a jeweler’s unique opportunity to advertise with a sidewalk clock required that his clock ran on time. Three times in the 1920s the street clocks were checked by the City, inspired at least in part by complaints about incorrect times. Ketcherside notes that “at their peak around 1930, there were about fifty street clocks in Seattle. From the intersection of Pike and Fourth Avenue you could see sixteen of them.”
Leaving the clocks, on the far right we can catch a glimpse of the Stetson Post Building. This snow-capped Victorian at the northeast corner of Marion and Second was constructed in 1883. Through its thirty-five years of existence it was also known as the New York Kitchen Block, the French Row Dwellings, and the Rainier Block. Next to it, in the featured photo, stands one of Seattle’s first steel skyscrapers, the American Savings Bank (1904-6), also known as the Empire Building and the Olympic National Life Building. You may remember its sensational destruction on February 28, 1982, with Seattle’s first implosion. To its left and across Madison Street stands the Leary Building (1909), named for the last family to live in the pioneer Weed home, which was razed to make way for its construction. (Both John Leary and Gideon Weed served terms as Seattle’s mayor.)
Far left in the featured photo and in the photo directly above is a slice of the Romanesque Revival Burke Building, which was planned but not built before the city’s Great Fire of 1889 by Thomas Burke (of the avenue, monument and museum). Burke also developed the Empire Building noted above. Finally, we will point out, upper left, optician Charles Holcomb’s oversized spectacles attached outside the window to his second floor office. Like the sidewalk clocks and the five-globe street standards, the spectacles also make an exquisite ledge for the fallen Big Snow.
Greetings, lads! Before I ask my perennial question, let me add a shot of the same scene from the 6th of February – riddled with a few flakes; pathetic compared to any of our Big Snows, but rare enough to intrigue, I’m thinking… Darn sure Jean, and directly below the first of you snowflake additions we will insert a rear view of the Burke Building arch that appears as stand along artifact on the far left of you photo. The one we join with it was taken by Frank Shaw in November 1974 and therefore soon after the Federal Building was completed with the Burke’s keepsake gateway retained in memento.
And here’s a few more shot that same morning…
Anything to add, fellahs? Jean we will start again with a few Edge-Links that Ron has pulled from recent features. Tomorrow, following a late breakfast (it is 5a.m. now) of oatmeal and maple syrup we will search for a few more features of greater antiquity, scan ’em and put ’em up. We wonder now and out loud if there is any retired lover of local history who will help us to in scanning the bulk of the nearly 1800 features we have written and illustrated in the last 34 years, then please step forward and be embraced. We will supply the scanner and plenty of packets of instant oatmeal.
3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Big Clock in Big Snow, 1916”
How big were these big snows in 1880 & 1916? There really hasn’t been anything to compare since then?
Small edit that I missed Paul. I’ll leave it hear in case someone assembles my biography in future decades.
I’ve had this mysterious street clock fixation for about fifteen years now. The database has been going for just over five years though.
And, thank you for sharing the photo and the story of the clocks!