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Long Island City's Beloved Clock Tower Nears Landmark Status

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It was in the works, but now it's almost a sure thing. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is poised to name the iconic Long Island City clock tower building—the vacant former Bank of Manhattan Company building—an official landmark. The LPC held a public hearing on the matter today, and all signs point to approval when a vote is held on May 12.

The building itself, located at 29-27 Queens Plaza North, was designed by Morrell Smith and completed in 1927. At that time, the Queens Chamber of Commerce named it the borough's best business building. Its 14 stories were vacant for a period of more than 25 years, but it is now owned by the Property Markets Group, which, along with the Hakim Organization, plans to build the city's tallest building outside Manhattan right next door. The 77-story, 915-foot-tall building would hold 930 market-rate apartments, while the clock tower would remain office space.

Additionally, all construction on the clock tower's east and west sides would be limited so as to preserve the views of it from surrounding areas. Brad Saxon, who owns the tower, said that it would be restored and that all four clocks would be made operational. He hoped it would continue to be a "beacon of Long Island City."

LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said she was "very pleased" to see the tower up for designation and noted that it received 250 to 300 signatures in support. Commissioner Diana Chapin said it would be a "terrific landmark for Queens" and called it "eminently worthy" of designation. Commissioner Michael Devonshire thanked the owners for their support of preservation.

Christian Emanuel, the real estate agent who filed the first formal Request for Evaluation with the LPC and whose parents are office tenants, said this building was once thought to be the centerpiece of the "Times Square of Queens." Michael Hall, who, along with Matthew Chrislip, created the preservation group + Partners and launched a Change.org petition to support designation, also spoke. He noted that, in addition to city leaders and members of the public, the designation has the support of the nonprofit organization Save America's Clocks. That organization's Forest Markowitz noted the clock was built at a pivotal moment in the transition of tower clocks from mechanical to electrical movements.

The Historic Districts Council also backed designation. HDC's Barbara Zay said it "was built to be a landmark." A man named Dan Allen spoke of checking for the time on the tower when riding the Long Island Rail Road, bemoaning the loss of other clocks at the Bulova building in Woodside, the Naarden fragrance building in Sunnyside, and the clocks of the old Penn Station. Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City also spoke of it as a solid, reliable marker of one's journey around the city.

The next step in this process is a formal vote by the members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday, May 12. It is likely to be among the first items of that day's agenda. It's also likely the clock tower will take very little time to get the thumbs up.
—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.
· Long Island City's Clock Tower Is Now a Landmark Hopeful [Curbed]
· Air Rights Deal Brings Queens' Tallest Tower Closer to Reality [Curbed]
· First Look at New York's Tallest Tower Outside of Manhattan [Curbed]
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]
· All LIC Clock Tower coverage [Curbed]
· All 29-37 41st Avenue coverage [Curbed]
—Photo by Clemens Kois via LIC Clocktower