Tacoma Public Sundial - Atlas Obscura

Tacoma Public Sundial

This municipal sundial has been keeping time along Tacoma's Commencement Bay since 1978. 


To find out the time in Tacoma, Washington, you have a few options. Sure, you can pull out a smartphone, or check your watch, but why bother with something so prosaic? Instead, head north to Commencement Bay on a sunny day, and you’ll be able to measure time using the City of Tacoma’s sundial.

The sundial is a public sculpture, created and maintained by Metro Parks Tacoma. When the park was under construction in 1978, the project’s landscape architect, Tom Pulford, felt that it was missing a focal point. He designed the sundial, placing it on a small bluff overlooking the bay and municipal beach below. The sundial sculpture consists of metal bent into two bowstring-shaped crescents. The vertical crescent has a rod, or gnomon, at the end of it, designed to cast a shadow, while the horizontal crescent marks the time through emblazoned numbers for each hour. Notches on the metal mark five minutes as the shadows creep through the day.

The park was completed in 1980. Originally called Commencement Park, it was renamed Jack Hyde Park in 2002 to honor geologist and former City Council member Jack Hyde. Hyde was elected mayor of Tacoma in 1993 on a platform that included improvements to Tacoma’s Ruston Way waterfront. After taking office on January 1, 1994, he served as Tacoma’s mayor for only 17 days before dying of a heart attack at the age of 59. In some way, the sundial makes a fitting retrospective commemoration, as an appreciation of the fleeting nature of time.

Know Before You Go

Despite Tacoma’s reputation, the city averages 141 sunny days per year, so the folly of placing a sundial in America’s cloudiest city still leaves visitors some chance to experience the sculpture in its full glory.

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