The historic Fred Mayes Jewelers street clock that decorates the sidewalk on 10th and J street is likely the last of its kind in Sacramento.
Standing at around 16-feet tall, this 100-year-old towering timepiece is a peek into Sacramento’s past. At night, the clock becomes illuminated by gold and white neon lights in the shape of a diamond ring around its face. This street clock has belonged to at least two different owners, altered and restored multiple times, and resided in at least two locations in the city over the decades.
Even if you do not consider yourself a clock enthusiast or history buff, this lone horological relic is a fascinating reminder of Sacramento when it was but a bustling young city.
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A Jeweler’s Clock Throughout the Decades
In 1952, a young Vincent Angell would daily pass by the Fred Mayes Street Clock on his way to St. Joseph Grammar School. While waiting for the bus, he would watch mesmerized through the window in the base of the Fred Mayes clock as the movement swung back and forth.
Today, Angell is president of the Sacramento-based chapter of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors. He’s been collecting clocks for over 40 years now, so it’s no surprise that Angell was included in this historic clock’s restoration efforts. In 2012, when the newly restored Fred Mayes clock was just being unveiled on J street, I sat down with Angell to learn more about the history behind the clock.
The origin of this street clock is shrouded in a bit of mystery.
The clock was manufactured in Seattle by the Marcus & Joseph Mayer Jewelry business, though an exact manufacture date has not been determined. The Mayer brothers were the largest producers of street clocks in Seattle, making about 100 street clocks between 1909 and 1930. Researchers believe there are only about 49 Mayer street clocks left in the U.S., including this well-known street clock in San Francisco.
The Fred Mayes Street clock is likely one of these last remaining timepieces.
No one knows exactly when the clock was installed on K street, but the first known picture of the street clock was taken in 1924. The original owners of the clock are thought to be two jewelers by the name of Weisen & Monk. Thomas B. Monk served as mayor of Sacramento from 1938-1945. The clock sat outside Monk’s jewelry store at 1009 K Street until its eventual reinstallation on J street in 1946.
The street clock also sat in front of the famed Crest Theater on K street, known as the Hippodrome Theater in the 1920s. Before that, it was Marcus Loew’s Empress Theater. These pictures show the street clock in its original design in front of the Hippodrome.
After Weisen & Monk took over the clock, Weisen soon moved on to his own jewelry ventures and Monk became its sole owner. Monk cared for the clock for decades and eventually moved the clock to its current location on J street. Before moving it, however, he made a few cosmetic adjustments.
“Originally, it had an older-style turn of the century Corinthian column and arms that had balls that were the lights,” said Angell.
The original cast-iron clock was fashioned similarly to the sidewalk light posts at the time, with two globe lights on either side of the face. With neon gaining popularity and becoming the preferred method of signage in the 1930s, Monk thought the clock needed an upgrade. He removed the globe lights and illuminated the clock’s face with rings of white and gold neon in the shape of an art deco-style diamond ring. This unique clock was reportedly one of the earliest displays of neon lights in the city.
Was Monk truly the clock’s first owner?
In my investigations into the origins of the clock, I became rather addicted to pouring through online archives of the Sacramento Daily Union Newspaper (a precursor to the Sac Bee).
The first thing I discovered was an advertisement for Weisen & Monk Jewelers mentioning that the duo took over for another well-known pair of jewelers, Klune & Floberg. Klune was a prosperous and respected jeweler in Sacramento in the early 1900s. He and Floberg owned various jewelry stores throughout midtown.
The next bit of interesting information I uncovered was a 1921 advertisement for Klune & Floberg’s closing sale at their store on 528 K street. In the ad, they mention selling a street clock outside of the store. It’s not unreasonable to think that this may have been the street clock in question, passed down to Weisen & Monk when they took over. If this was in fact the case, this would mean the clock has been under the care of three different generations of jewelers and has lived in at least three locations in Sacramento.
Of course, this is all speculation. Klune & Floberg were prominent jewelers at the time, so it’s possible they commissioned more than one street clock for their various stores.
A Sign of the Times for Jewelers
In the early 1900s, street clocks were about as common as a bike rack is today. These sidewalk horological gems decorated the streets outside banks, main streets, and most commonly, in front of jewelry stores.
For jewelers and watchmakers, street clocks with the shop’s name on their faces served as a form of sidewalk marketing. The public clocks were somewhat of a gift to those who could not afford a personal timepiece. Additionally, if your pocket or wristwatch wasn’t functioning correctly, you could visit the jeweler’s store and set yours to the correct time.
Traditionally, street clocks contained mechanical clock movements located in the base, which required periodical winding. The Fred Mayes clock’s original mechanical movement stopped working in the late 1960s and was later replaced with an electric controller. Most street clocks today are now electric and set by automatic clock controllers with GPS systems.
The Clock Falls Into Disrepair
In 1963, Monk sold his jewelry store and street clock to Fred Mayes, a skilled jeweler and repairman. Tom Monk’s street clock now became the Fred Mayes Jewelers’ Clock. In 1982, the city designated the clock a historic landmark in its art deco style condition. With the help of Sacramento Heritage, the city paid $8,000 to repair the neon lights that had stopped working.
After these initial repairs, neither the Redevelopment Agency nor the city assumed responsibility for repairing the timepiece. Instead, Mayes looked after the clock until his retirement in 1998, after unofficially donating the timepiece to the city five years prior.
Without anyone “officially” in charge of looking after it, the clock had fallen into extreme disrepair by the early 2000s. It was covered in unsightly graffiti and the neon was no longer working. It was at this point that Grieg Best, a CSUS graduate student, decided to take matters into his own hands.
Keep the Timepiece Ticking
Best grew up in New York and remembered seeing street clocks all over the city, said Angell.
When he moved to Sacramento, he was disappointed to find that only one remained. As part of his master’s thesis, Best researched the history of the Mayes clock and brought it once again to the city’s attention. He contacted Mayes’s widow, Faye Marie Mayes, and the then-owner of the property at 1006 J Street to get their support for revamping the clock. By 2010, Best had succeeded in initiating a full-scale restoration of the clock, at which point Angell was contacted to aid in its repair.
Alpha Architectural Signs in Sacramento repaired the neon. They had to order the “classic neon” color all the way from Italy. It took about a year to finish all repairs, including adding a GPS system that will keep the clock’s time in event of a power loss and a stainless steel case around the base. The base needed to be somewhat “over-engineered” to stand a chance of surviving being hit by a car. The intricate brass casting work was completed by the Art Foundry & Gallery on R Street.
The repairs costed around $24,000, with donations coming from various agencies and groups in Sacramento invested in the project. By 2012, the clock was restored to its original glory as re-designed by Mr. Monk and finally reinstalled on J street.
The city of Sacramento issued a press release commemorating the occasion: “The restored landmark clock is a small but significant example of the City’s commitment to preserving its heritage. This clock, the nearby Citizen Hotel, the Elks Building, and the Sheraton are fine examples of the great architectural history of Sacramento and testament to how the City is building on history.”
It was a happy day for Sacramentans, and especially for Angell. “I grew up with it, and I wanted to see it stay in Sacramento,” he said.
“It’s the only public street clock on the streets of Sacramento. If Greig didn’t press the city for a restoration, it would have likely ended up damaged or run over with a car or sold,” he added.
Now, the clock sits outside a Falafel restaurant and a skateboard shop – two establishments you would have never seen in the early years of Sacramento. Thanks to the concern of citizens like Best and Angell, it will continue to mark the changing times in the city for years to come.
For a complete overview of everyone involved in the Fred Mayes Clock restoration, check out the city’s complete report.
Timeline of the Historic Fred Mayes Street Clock
1897-1920: The clock is likely manufactured in Seattle within this 23-year time span by the Marcus and Joseph Mayer jewelry business.
1921: Mention of a street clock appears in an ad for a jewelry store moving sale on 528 K Street. This store was occupied by Klune & Floberg Jewelers, predecessors to the Weisen & Monk Jewelry Store on K street. Klune & Floberg had multiple jewelry store locations, but it is possible that this was the clock’s true original location.
1924: First clear photo of the street clock in front of the Crest Theater is taken. 1009 K Street is currently thought to be its original location.
1924-1946: Street clock remains at this location in front of Tom Monk’s jewelry store on K street. At some point, Mr. Monk modifies the original clock design. Monk redesigns the clock by removing the globe lights and adding neon lights in the form of a diamond ring around the clock’s face.
1946: Street clock is moved to its current location on 10th and J street when Mr. Monk relocates his jewelry store.
1963: Monk’s jewelry store and the street clock are purchased by Fred Mayes Jewelers.
Late 1960s: The clock’s movement stops working and Mr. Mayes removes the original timepiece for safekeeping.
1982: The City of Sacramento designates the clock as a historic landmark in its art deco style condition as altered by Mr. Monk.
1993: Mayes donates the clock to the city. The clock’s neon lights are restored, but the timepiece remains inoperable.
1998: Mayes retires, and the clock falls into extreme disrepair.
2008: Greig Best, previously Executive Director of the Sacramento History Foundation, orchestrates the second larger restoration of the street clock as part of his graduate thesis.
2010: The clock is removed and restoration efforts begin.
2012: The clock is restored and an electric timepiece is installed. The clock is now a fully functional timepiece and is returned to its home on J street.
Visit the Clock Today
You can visit this historic clock at 10th and J Street. While you might be hard-pressed to find parking in front of the clock, or even across the street, it is worth driving by or stopping to admire this relic of Sacramento’s past.
Angell, Vincent. Interview. By Michael Kahn. 2012.