As I walk down unfamiliar sidewalks I make sure not to ignore the ground, always on the lookout for sidewalk markers. Due to this conditioned vigilance, I have accumulated a decent photographic collection of these markers from cities all around the country. Right now for example, I am in Aurora, IL, a Chicago Exurb whose attractive city center is loaded with sidewalk markers that I am quite happy to have stumbled upon. This particular sidewalk contractor stamp includes an exact date:
The details that some sidewalk stamps carry provide starting points for research that can reveal much about a city’s past. While visiting Seattle last month I came across a nice selection of sidewalk stamps and markers, the bulk of them concentrated in Pioneer Square. Pioneer Square has a remarkable history as Seattle’s original downtown. After the “Great Seattle Fire” of 1889 (seems like every American city has had a great fire), the city began rebuilding immediately, but soon after reconstruction had begun planners made the decision to raise the streets up a story to remedy a problem with flooding during high tide. During this transition, building entrances were moved up to what became street level, and new sidewalks were built one story above the old ones. Because the original ground level entrances were sometimes still in use underground, many sidewalks in this area have skylights to allow light into the passages below. A popular tourist attraction, the Seattle Underground Tour, allows you to walk along some of these underground sidewalks and listen to bad jokes.
These skylights are all over Pioneer Square and are hard to miss for even someone with only a casual interest in sidewalks (I assume). The fact that so many of the sidewalks in Pioneer Square are over 100 years old is awesome to me, but, after almost a month in Seattle and regular trips to Pioneer Square and other sections of the city’s historic core, I stopped carrying my camera after dark. I figured that anything I was interested in, I had already photographed several times. Thank God for camera phones, because on one of my last nights in Seattle I looked down and saw this:
This sight brought me back almost to the beginning of my relationship with sidewalk markers. An interest that began after coming across a St. Louis Sidewalk Company sidewalk marker. After making this initial discovery I started enthusiastically searching the internet for more, and the first bit of gold I struck was a flickr photo of a P.M. Bruner Sidewalk marker in Tower Grove East. I immediately began walking blocks in the neighborhood until I found them myself, and since then I have come across several identical markers in other sections of the city.
Almost every new sidewalk marker I see gets its text googled, and this one was no exception. Unlike most cement contractors, however, P.M. Bruner has a pretty serious online presence, particularly if you perform a Google Patent search. Interestingly enough, Preston Martin Bruner of St. Louis, Missouri holds several patents for Sidewalk Lights that closely resemble those visible in the photo of L.A. Norris’ sidewalk.
Is it possible that a St. Louisan designed this technology that helps make Seattle’s Pioneer Square so cool? It is very possible, but unfortunately, all I can do is speculate and continue to keep my eyes and ears open. If anyone has more information on this subject, please share.
I found a website with a photo of a P.M. Bruner sidewalk with “vault lights” in Houston, TX.