Inn at the Market

The Restoration and Preservation of the Pike Place Market Sign Points to What Matter Most

Signs are everywhere, and even though we think we filter out their messages, they actually govern both our psyches and behavior.

We’re not just talking about beautiful, modern signs executed with thoughtful graphic design and inspired typography. Or our historic Pike Place Market sign—often viewed by those with an eye for design as the most iconic in the country and lauded as “…so strikingly simple.”

We mean the poorly designed signs too – the ones created in haste with no idea of What They Are For; like the A-frame sign outside of a deli with illegible writing in tiny script no passerby could possibly read.

The creator might know it’s supposed to communicate the menu, a special, or a unique offering, but forgot that what it’s REALLY for is to make a potential customer READ and UNDERSTAND what’s available inside, even if they decide it’s not for them.

Indeed, when making a sign, we often fail to understand what a complex process READING a sign is. Any sign.

For example, when we see the different colors of a traffic light, we know how to react to them without even thinking about it. This is because traffic lights are signs established by cultural convention over a long period of time (i.e., signs we start learning as children). Yet traffic lights require a great deal of unconscious cultural knowledge to understand their meaning.


That’s why there’s extensive academic study of how signs¬—and what they’re really SYMBOLIZING—create meaning. We need to understand the context in which a sign is communicated to comprehend its real significance, and hence act appropriately. Why? Because what is going on AROUND the sign is usually as important for us to know as the sign itself to interpret its meaning.

That’s why restoration and preservation of the Pike Place Market sign—a project currently underway—is so important. But first things first: what does the Pike Place Market sign say?

Odds are the average reader (before Googling the answer) will think “Pike Place Market.” Which of course makes sense.

But the rehabilitation currently underway is for a sign that reads:

Including the clock! Oh, and technically within a body of work this beloved icon is referred to as Public Market Center Clock & Sign®.

While it may sound unbelievable, the Clock & Sign® was erected in 1937, 30 years after the Seattle City Council passed Council Member Thomas Revelle’s ordinance to create a public farmers market on Pike Place. It’s hard to imagine the market without it. Even the City Fish sign predates it by 19 years! (City Fish was created in 1918 to counter the high price of fish at the time.)

The Public Market Center Clock & Sign® was protected from the wrecking ball (as was the rest of the market) in 1971 when Seattle voters approved Initiative 1, which not only kept the market intact, but led to a renovation in 1974.

Speaking of the hard work of ensuring the market sticks around, a $71M levy approved by voters in 2008 led to three years of renovations, after which the MarketFront expansion between 2015-2017 gave us the market we know and love today.

For the sign renovation currently underway, local contractor NOVO is working to make Public Market Center Clock & Sign® sparkle like never before. It’s been more than 15 years since the Clock & Sign has been painted, so it’s due for a little TLC.

Scaffolding went up on May 9, 2022, and the sign was covered on May 13 when restoration began in earnest. This is a project not for the faint of heart! The sign is three stories tall, with fragile neon lights, and a challenging rooftop positioning. The goal is to preserve both the look and the intricate markings (all by hand). NOVO will use a direct to metal enamel paint to withstand the summer sun, certainly the rain, and our occasional snow.

When’s the big reveal? Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Mark your calendars and come see the rejuvenated sign.

This is also a unique opportunity to book a stay at Inn at the Market and enjoy the new sign close-up. We’re the only downtown Seattle hotel located directly in (as in steps away from) the Public Market Center Clock & Sign®. With summer right around the corner, the weather heating up, and a bright, shiny, renovated sign to experience, the best path for a remarkable experience leads to right to our door.

But back to that complex process of reading a sign, what it’s really symbolizing, and how it creates meaning. For the Public Market Center Clock & Sign®, it’s meaning is certainly derived by what is going on around it. Hundreds of farmers, crafters, and small businesses, uniting as one group—despite incredible diversity—to increase the health and wellbeing of the entire Seattle community, both tourists or residents. In a fast-paced world where technology rules—and certainly helps—our daily lives, the Public Market Center Clock & Sign reminds us that to thrive as human beings we need a lot more than screens and products delivered to our doors (i.e. convenience). We need presence and connection with people, so our souls continue to thrive as a community. Without the Public Market Center Clock & Sign®, we’re at risk of losing what matters most: our sense of time and place in the world, and our importance to one another.