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Originally published Friday, February 1, 2013 at 10:00 AM

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Keeping time with Seattle's history

What was the real purpose for capturing this engaging tableau of Pike Street culture, mid-20th century? Hint: It's about the clock.

Special to The Seattle Times

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HERE AN AUTUMNAL sun brightens the endearing clutter of Pike Street on Nov. 6, 1953. The date has been hand-printed on the negative, and the time — approaching 2:25 p.m. — is marked on Dr. James Sender's street clock standing tall above the old sidewalk.

By 1953 Sender, a past president of the Northwest College of Optometry, had been fitting glasses in this neighborhood for more than 20 years, although his office here at 108 Pike St. is nearly new. Sender shared the address with the Mirror Tavern, where some customers surely found their future reflected in a glass of beer. You can see a large part of the bar's sign hanging above the sidewalk behind Sender's clock.

Judging from the optometrist's advertisements, with the move of his office, Sender began turning his attention from eye care to selling jewelry and fixing timepieces, including his big one out front. It was once nearly obligatory for jewelers in the business district to have a clock on the sidewalk.

I have learned from Anne Frantilla, Seattle's deputy city archivist, that the purpose of this public-works recording was not to compose an engaging tableau of Pike Street culture, mid-20th century, but to spy on Sender's clock and, with more snaps, other big clocks in the area. In 1953, a piqued Seattle City Council was hoping to get rid of street clocks. Too often, they chimed, the clocks knocked pedestrians' knees while keeping poor time. The council did not succeed. In 1980, a different council declared the 10 surviving street clocks historic landmarks.

Frantilla also directed me to Rob Ketcherside, a Seattle historian with an interest in Seattle's street clocks. See his website at www.zombiezodiac.com/rob/ped/clock.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at www.pauldorpat.com.

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