Meet Me Under the Kaufmann's Clock

If you are native to the Pittsburgh area, the phrase "Meet Me Under the Kaufmann's Clock" will most likely resonate with you.

The clock that is located outside the former Pittsburgh department store chain's "Big Store" has been a downtown Pittsburgh landmark for over a century.   Overlooking the corner of Smithfield Street and Fifth Avenue, the 2500 lb clock is an iconic Pittsburgh mainstay.

The clock is actually the second clock to stand at the corner of Fifth and Smithfield.  The first Kaufmann's Clock stood on a post and was installed in 1887 when Jacob and Issac Kaufmann opened their new flagship store at 400 Fifth Avenue.  When Kaufmann's expanded "The Big Store" in 1913, the beloved landmark was installed.

For over 125 years, the Kaufmann's name was well known throughout the Pittsburgh region as the area's main department store.  The chain grew into the suburbs and via acquisition - yet the 13 story downtown store still attracted shoppers throughout the metropolitan area.  Though my family typically shopped at a suburban mall location, the rare times we did go to the downtown store was fascinating as it seemed like at least to me it was the "Fancy Kaufmann's." And the Christmas displays during the holiday seasons were always a treat to many.

The clock was a meeting place for families shopping downtown, the spot of numerous marriage proposals, the site of one of the most unique bets in Pittsburgh City Council history, and much more.  The clock became such a symbol of the department store brand that its restaurant was named the Tic Toc Restaurant.  The clock has been captured in numerous paintings and other works of art that showcase how much the clock means to the city and its residents.
The Kaufmann's Clock in 1955. (Source: Kaufmann's Department Store Photograph Collection - HistoricPittsburgh.org / University of Pittsburgh Library System)

The clock was given a deserved landmark status in 1981 by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.  Six years later, an extensive cleaning was performed on the clock that restored it to its original condition.

After nearly 140 years in operation, the Kaufmann's chain would be sold to Macy's in 2005.  Soon after the sale was completed, the Kaufmann's name would be no more.  Macy's would replace the brand that so many Pittsburghers shopped at.  Nine years later, in 2015, Macy's announced that they had sold the former flagship location to a developer and the store closed for good on September 30th.

Fortunately, the developers, Core Realty, recognized the symbolic importance and regional attachment to the clock and incorporated it into the design.  Now in 2019, generations of Pittsburghers past, present and future can still meet each other underneath the Kaufmann's Clock.

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