Photographers braved the cold to capture images of snow piling up on the city’s streets more than 100 years ago.
I’D 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 uppercase. The first and deepest was the Big Snow of 1880, with 4-foot drifts. The second was the Big Snow of 1916, sampled in the featured photo.
Aside from their depths, the differences between the two Big Snows were cameras. Perhaps a dozen photos survive from the 1880 storm. But there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of amateur snapshots and professional “real photo” postcards that in 1916 were witnesses to an eccentric Big Snow. By then, cameras were commonplace, and the piling snow, despite the chill, was an enticing subject.
Certainly for this look north on Second Avenue, it is the 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.
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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’ one 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 run on time. Three times in the 1920s, the street clocks were checked by the City of Seattle, inspired at least in part by complaints about incorrect times.
Ketcherside notes, “At their peak around 1930, there were about 50 street clocks in Seattle. From the intersection of Pike and Fourth Avenue, you could see 16 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 corner of Marion and Second was constructed in 1883. Through its 35 years of existence, it also was known as the New York Kitchen Block, the French Row Dwellings and the Rainier Block. Next to it stands one of Seattle’s first steel skyscrapers, the American Savings Bank, also known as the Empire Building and the Olympic National Life Building. You might remember its sensational destruction on Feb. 28, 1982, with Seattle’s first implosion.
To the left of the bank and across Madison Street stands the Leary Building, 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 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.