Save the Clock Tower!

Save the Clock Tower!

historic custom made clock tower with mechanical tower clock movement in peril

346 Broadway, NYC, Clock Tower in Peril

NYC developers want to cover up historic clock

Suit filed against plans to conceal the over 100-year-old mechanical clock in Tribeca

A group of preservationists has filed a suit against real estate developers Elad Properties and the Peebles Corporation, owners of the building at 346 Broadway.  The custom made exterior clock tower is a designated interior landmark, and the suit he suit will attempt to stop the owners from making it inaccessible to the public. The developers want to cover up the clock to turn the area into a penthouse. “This constitutes the privatization of public assets,” said Michael Hiller, the lawyer for the preservationists. “It’s likely the first time ever that the city has allowed an interior landmark to be sold off for use as a private living space, to be completely fenced off from public view.”

Thomas Bernardin of Save America’s Clocks, a company dedicated to preserving public timepieces and another of the plaintiffs, said  “There has to be a limit to the amount of public property that the wealthy can acquire at the public’s expense,” said “What’s next?”  he continued.  “The sale of the observation deck of the Empire State Building for use as a billionaire’s private barbecue patio? Will Central Park be sold off as a real estate developer’s private garden?” (as reported by Katherine Clark in the Daily News).

The renowned architecture firm McKim, Mead & White ordered the clock from the E. Howard Watch & Clock Company, one of the country’s most prestigious clock-making companies at the time, to top the wedding-cake of a building in 1895 – the height of the Gilded Age. It was designed to be one of the largest and most advanced custom made clock ever assembled in America and took almost two years to fabricate and install.  In fact, it is one of a very few mechanical clocks still in operation.  New York City’s Clock master Marvin Schneider goes to the clock tower every eight days to wind the mechanical clock with its unique large custom clock hands, and has done so since 1979.

Read this description from a 2007 article in The New York Times. 

New York Life Insurance Company Building at 346-348 Broadway as seen in the late 1890s or early 1900s PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY, GETTY IMAGES.

New York Life Insurance Company Building at 346-348 Broadway as seen in the late 1890s or early 1900s PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY, GETTY IMAGES.

“Four massive clock faces, composed of frosted glass and cast-iron Roman numerals, stare out over the four directions of Manhattan’s grid. From the center of each face a delicate rod runs to the center of the room, where a confounding jumble of gears, spindles, levers and paddles perches improbably atop four cabriolet legs for the tower clock movements.

With more than a dozen gears, ranging in diameter from a half inch to two feet, this is the city’s largest mechanical clock, and it is attached to a hammer that hourly strikes a 5,000-pound bronze bell. The clock keeps time in a manner appropriate to the pace of the era that spawned it — that is, it’s off about 10 seconds a month, a lag unthinkable for today’s electronic devices that register milliseconds with the self-importance of a nuclear countdown.”

If time is not worth money, then what is?