Tacoma to repair historic LeRoy Street Clock with city funds

Tacoma to repair historic LeRoy Street Clock with city funds

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  • December 25, 2022
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Time has frozen, at least as far as the LeRoy Street Clock on Broadway in Tacoma is concerned.

The 102-year-old clock was stopped earlier this year after it was discovered that if it continued to tick away, damaged gears might destroy the clockworks entirely. The City Council passed a resolution Tuesday to fund up to $35,000 for restoration of the clock.

The mechanical clock arrived in Tacoma in 1920 and sat in front of A. Rose Credit Jewelers on Pacific Avenue and South 14th Street to promote the business. Steph Farber, who runs LeRoy Jewelers where the clock now sits, said merchants wanted to provide that ability to tell the time. Rose’s clock wasn’t the only one in downtown at the time. There was a four-sided clock in front of Burnett Brothers at 924 Broadway, another at Mahncke & Co. at 919 Broadway and a two-faced clock in front of Sprenger & Jones at 1141 Broadway.

Farber said, at the time, downtown was full of department stores and independent shops.

The LeRoy Street Clock was hit and knocked down by a delivery truck sometime in the 1960s. It was carted off to a city warehouse in pieces.

Downtown had changed by then. The Tacoma Mall opened in 1964, and stores relocated. The city of Tacoma experimented with making Broadway Plaza pedestrian-only, which caused more downtown businesses to leave. Street clocks were taken to the dump as merchants left downtown.

LeRoy Jewelers decided to stay, Farber said, and two decades after it was carted off, he went searching for the old Rose Street Clock.

At the city warehouse, he found all the pieces of the clock, and the clockworks were mostly intact. Simon Rose, Abraham’s son, found the missing spare parts needed to restore the clock, according to The News Tribune archives.

The Farber family had the clock refurbished for more than $10,000 and installed in front of LeRoy Jewelers, 940 Broadway, in 1987. Rose agreed to give the clock to the city if it would maintain it, according to the City Council action memorandum.

Farber said he sees the street clock as a symbol of stability and quality in Tacoma.

“It’s time for the downtown to come back,” he said. “And it did. It’s not because of the clock, but it’s a part of it.”

Once a week since 1987, either Farber, a City Council member or a resident has wound the clock.

The 20-foot-tall clock is wound by lifting a 50 pound weight. The weight serves as a power source by using gravity. As the weight slowly falls, it moves the gear, one of its teeth at a time. The pendulum’s swing controls the movement of the gear and prevents it from moving too quickly. The gear movement controls both sides of the minute and hour hands of the two-faced clock.

Farber notes the clock belongs to the city.

“This does not belong to me,” he said. “This is a treasure, one of many in the city.”

The city has other street clocks, like one in Proctor that is currently being repaired and another in Old Town, but the LeRoy Street Clock is the only one in Tacoma that is not run by electricity.

The clock continued working for three more decades. In February 2020, the clock stopped. Brittany Cox, an antiquarian horologist or specialized mechanic in Vashon, was contacted. She evaluated the clock and determined it would continue working for a couple more years before it would need to be repaired, Farber said.

The clock stopped again earlier this year. It was then determined the LeRoy Street Clock would suffer catastrophic failure if it continued running. The gears were in need of repair. If they failed, it would cause the 60-80 pound weight, a pendulum, to impact the clockworks.

The clock was stopped and set to 7:20. The time is common in watch advertisements to show the manufacturer’s name, Farber said.

Farber reached out to the city for assistance. Council member Sarah Rumbaugh, who represents District 2, took it as a cause, he said.

The clock was made by Seattle-based Joseph Mayer Brothers Street Clock Co., which was founded in 1897. About 100 street clocks were produced between 1909-1930 and were often placed in front of jewelers or watchmakers. Cox said the clockmaker used two brass pinions, instead of a steel and brass pinion, to ensure it would wear out, requiring it to be serviced before it failed.

The clock has other structural and cosmetic concerns that need to be addressed, including some rusting at the base of the case. Recommended work to the street clock includes repairs to the case and motion, movement general, gear train, escapement mechanism, winding mechanism, cosmetic improvements and final regulation and adjustments, according to the council’s action memorandum.

The clockworks are in Vashon with Cox. About six weeks ago, someone took a hammer to one of the glass panels on the case. Farber said in all the time the street clock was working, it was never vandalized.

The clock will be moved for the restoration work.

The known costs to repair the clock are estimated at $17,160, which doesn’t account for unforeseen faults or challenges, materials and any taxes or fees. The extent of work needed will be determined once the workings of the clock are examined. The council unanimously approved up to $35,000 out of its council contingency fund on Tuesday. The amount of time the repairs will take is also uncertain, according to Cox.

Rumbaugh said at the council meeting the street clock is significant to the Jewish community and that it is important to save the clock as a part of the history of Jewish people who settled in Tacoma. The Roses, who purchased the street clock, were Jewish.

“Since it’s part of our Jewish history, I appreciate us looking at saving this one,” she said.

She said she wants to ensure that the city’s street clocks are not stored in a warehouse somewhere to be forgotten. They are a part of the city’s history, she said.

After the clock’s repairs are completed, Cox and Farber said the LeRoy Street Clock should work for another 100 years.

Liz Moomey covers the city of Tacoma for The News Tribune. She was previously a Report For America corps member covering Eastern Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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