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Long Island City's Clock Tower Is Now a Landmark Hopeful

The iconic Long Island City clock tower building—also known as the vacant former Bank of Manhattan Company building—will get its chance at landmark designation. On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to calendar a hearing to designate it an individual landmark, with LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan calling it a "historic anchor."

A public hearing, where people for and against the landmarking can deliver testimony, could come as early as April. The push to landmark the building followed its purchase by a residential developer last year and then a second sale to yet another developer in November—ripe for a condo conversion, anyone?—and as there is a proposal to build a 70-story building right next door. Naturally, preservation advocates cheered the decision.

The historic 14-story building was designed by Morrell Smith and completed in 1927. It had been vacant for more than 25 years, but is now owned by Property Markets Group. That developer, along with the Hakim Organization, is behind the plan to build the 70-story building next door. That would be the new tallest building in Queens. According to preservationists who want to save the clock tower, that megaproject would necessitate demolition of part of the clock tower as well as the purchase of air rights from the MTA.

Real estate agent Christian Emanuel was one of the first to file a formal Request for Evaluation with the LPC. "The past year has been a long road to get to this point. We are very thankful for the Commission's action this morning, and are excited to see the process through," he said. "The borough of Queens, and specifically the industrial areas of Queens have not been high on the LPC's priority list, and only the people can change that. This is a huge step for the community, and it will work to discredit the myth that Queens isn't as important when it comes to sites. Sites like this beautiful bank provide plot lines in a rich narrative of the history of Queens, and there are tons of possibilities." Of the tower planned next door, he hopes this designation can prove that "new projects and new developments can exist literally side by side with the most important structures of yesteryear."

Preservation group + Partners, which launched a petition to get the building landmarked and runs a site about the clock tower, also proclaimed its joy over the LPC's decision to calendar it. "The Commission's vote ensures that the Clock Tower will receive provisional protections under the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law (celebrating its 50th anniversary next month) until its candidacy for landmark designation is formally heard at a public hearing," the organization's Michael Hall and Matthew Chrislip said. "We have been fortunate to work on this issue for the past year, campaigning alongside a strong community of supporters and advocates, and we are continually impressed by the willingness of local organizations and leaders to commit time and energy to preserving the architectural heritage of Long Island City."
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All LIC Clock Tower coverage [Curbed]
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]
—Photo by Clemens Kois via LIC Clocktower