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Landmarked TriBeCa Clock Will Go Electric When Building Turns Into Condos

By Irene Plagianos | December 16, 2014 5:40pm
 Clocktower at 346 Broadway
Clocktower at 346 Broadway
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TRIBECA — A 116-year-old landmarked clock that tops a historic Broadway building will keep ticking — but with the power of electricity, not a hand-wound crank — inside a private luxury condo.

The Landmark Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to approve a contested plan that would convert the 14-story building at 346 Broadway into an upscale residence. The soaring four-faced clock is currently a public landmark but will become part of a private residence under the approved plan.

The developers said they will not change most of the massive clock's landmarked parts, but will electrify the timepiece, which for decades has been hand-wound by two retired city employees, Marvin Schneider, 75, and Forest Markowitz, 63.

The developers will also ensure that officials can inspect the clock in the future, so that the private owner of the apartment is keeping the landmark in good shape.

The future of the clock has been controversial since developers Peebles Corporation and El Ad Group bought the city-owned building in May.

Preservationists have worried that plans to restore the landmarked building — which housed municipal offices and an art gallery — would remove public access to the clock. They also worried that the clock would stop functioning, or developers would alter the mechanical winding of the clock, which they now plan to do.

At the LPC meeting Tuesday, John Beyer, the project's lead architect, argued that the clock housed inside the top level of the building “is not in fact currently available to the public.”

The men who wind the clock have given tours to the public by appointment, they said.

LPC commissioners debated the issue but decided that even if the clock was once public, that does not mean it must remain public forever. 

While LPC chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan called the clock issue “complicated,” she ultimately approved the restoration plan, which would revitalize the aging building and allow for public access to the lobby.

However, one commissioner, Adi Shamir-Baron, voted against the plan, saying she couldn't approve of the lack of public access and the electricity change.

The Historic Districts Council and the Society for the Architecture of the City also strongly disagree with the LPC’s decision and said they are contemplating legal action.

"We are incredibly disappointed and disturbed by the LPC allowing the destruction of an interior landmark — this is completely unnecessary," said Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council. "What sort of place is New York becoming, where unique and wondrous places are being reduced to someone’s fancy bedroom, and why is this being allowed?"