San Diego’s top tourist attraction in 1907 wasn’t a zoo, a park, a popular building or location. It was an amazing clock. Word traveled far and wide about the elegant, beautiful, one-of-a-kind Jessop’s Street Clock, which debuted that year in downtown San Diego. San Diego at the time was a very small town. The large clock stood on the sidewalk in front of the J. Jessop and Sons jewelry store at 952 Fifth Avenue.
The idea for this street clock sprang from the imagination of Joseph Jessop, a jeweler who immigrated to America from England. He’d seen many beautiful public clocks in Europe. especially in Switzerland. Joseph hired mechanic Claude D. Ledger to build the complex clock, which took fifteen months of meticulous, precise work to complete. The fine clock has almost never stopped working. One memorable day the clock did mysteriously stop–the same day that Claude died.
The Jessop’s Street Clock was first displayed at the 1907 Sacramento State Fair, where it was awarded a gold medal. (The large medal of real gold was stolen, and so was the first bronze replacement!) Since then the clock has occupied several different spots in San Diego. The clock stands 22 feet tall and features 20 separate dials and 300 moving parts. It has an estimated worth of several million dollars. Much of the shining movement is gold-plated. The elegant clock contains tourmaline, agate, topaz and jade, local gems extracted from the Jessop Mine on Mount Palomar.
Today the historic clock occupies a prominent position near the center of Horton Plaza, where many shoppers breeze by with hardly a glance. I suppose very few people realize the importance of this clock, and how at one time, over a century ago, it was one of San Diego’s most well-known landmarks.