If you’ve ever walked or driven down North Harbor Boulevard in downtown Fullerton, you may have noticed an old fashioned street clock positioned on the curb in front of a brick building that currently houses Matador Cantina. The Stedman Jewelers’ Street Clock is one of only a few elements remaining from the early Fullerton streetscape. Named after William (“Billy”) Stedman, a Welsh immigrant, the Stedman clock certainly has a unique history behind it.
Walking down Harbor, I read a plaque on the clock’s base and found that it is Local Historical Landmark No. 48. Manufactured by the Brown Street Clock Company (circa 1905), the plaque indicated that the clock had been leased to the City of Fullerton in 1995. Reaching out to Archivist Cheri Pape at the Fullerton Public Library’s Local History Room, and Debora Richey from Fullerton Heritage, I was able to access historic documents revealing that the clock was not always at its current location. Originally installed around 1910 for Stalmer’s Jewelers on the east side of Harbor (at 112 North Spadra Road), the clock remained at that location until 1940. Local jeweler and watchmaker William Stedman bought the clock when he purchased Stalmer’s Jewelers in 1928.
According to a 1937 issue of the Fullerton News Tribune, “Stedman got into the jewelry business at 14 years of age, as an apprentice to George Henry Cartwright…That’s how Billie Stedman learned the jewelry and watchmaking business – seven years of apprenticeship, in which he never missed a day’s work.” Working in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Stedman started at a salary of $2 a week. His contract provided an increase of $1 a week each year during his seven-year term as an apprentice.
He found Fullerton on his way to take a job in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1922, Stedman stopped in Anaheim and liked Fullerton so much that he decided to live here. According to the Fullerton News Tribune, he applied for U.S. citizenship papers, but “due to governmental red tape, did not receive final papers until 1934.” An old advertisement in the February 16, 1929 issue of the Fullerton News Tribune announced the opening of the Stedman Jewelry Store. At the bottom of the ad, Stedman wrote, “Time your shopping by the big Stedman Street Clock – Always on Time.”
In 1940, Stedman relocated his store across the street to 109 North Spadra Road (now Harbor). He had the street clock moved with the store, according to a historical landmark document from the City of Fullerton. In 1945, friends of Stedman lauded his election as president of the California Retail Jewelers’ Association. By that time, “Billy” had been living in Fullerton for twenty-three years. Looking at various documents from the Library’s Local History Room, I found that he was very involved in local clubs and lodges, from an Elk to a Shriner to president of the Chamber of Commerce. Stedman even served a fouryear term as chairman of the President’s
Ball, an event which, according to a 1945 issue of the Fullerton News Tribune, was “given annually to aid the fund for victims of juvenile paralysis.”
When the Stedmans finally retired from their business in 1982, the clock became a target for vandals and reckless drivers, according to City documents. Luckily, in 1995, the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency and the Stedman family stepped in to restore the clock before it became too badly damaged. It was leased to the City by Frances Stedman, Shirley Laroff, and Willa Vanderburg, according to the clock’s plaque. After the Stedman family entered into a 99-year “long term possession and use” lease agreement with the City’s Redevelopment Agency, the Agency agreed to take on the responsibility of maintaining and restoring the clock.
Until that time, the clock had remained in the same position, but the timepiece had to be taken down for restoration purposes in 1996. It took “18 months of painstaking labor” to repair the clock, including “reworking the interior dials, the restoration of its neon lighting, and the repainting of the 14-foot high base structure,” according to City documents. By 1997, it was fully operational. A dedication ceremony was held on April 25, 1997, according to the clock’s plaque.
In October 2007, the Stedman Street Clock was severely damaged by winds, according to an article in the Fullerton Observer archives. Branches from a nearby tree had smashed the glass, and the wind had pushed the clock off its cast-iron pedestal. Fullerton’s facilities supervisor, Lyman Otley, commented at the time that he wasn’t sure the clock could be fixed. Fortunately, Canterbury International of Los Angeles, which had prior experience building clocks, benches and water fountains for Disneyland, made a $20,116 bid to reconstruct the clock, according to a 2008 article by the OC Register. While researching, the company discovered that the Brown Street Clock had originally been built for $150 in 1905. Canterbury International added a decorative iron piece on top when the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency hired them to restore the clock in 2008. It was re-installed at its present-day position and re-dedicated on May 15, 2008.
Local Historical Landmark No. 48 has stood the test of time, and will continue to be a reminder of the downtown area’s past.