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Long Island City’s clocktower building gears up for a facelift

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The nearly century old clock faces will receive a sorely needed restoration

Courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission/Darius Toraby Architects

An iconic Long Island City clocktower is getting a facelift—literally.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans this week to revitalize the four clock faces atop a nearly century old 14-story building in Queens Plaza. The neo-Gothic tower once loomed over Queens as the borough’s tallest commercial building until 1990. Now, land and air rights from the structure are giving rise to an adjacent 77-story skyscraper that will soon claim the title of borough’s tallest.

The brown-brick landmark, with its castellated clocktower turret, is being repurposed into a commercial and retail space. As part of that overhaul, Durst has hired a team of architects to restore its dilapidated glass and cast iron clock faces. Those leading the project sought to swap the damaged frosted glass panels with a type of acrylic and replace the cast iron dials with aluminum—durable materials that can endure years in the elements.

Courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission/Darius Toraby Architects

“We feel these new materials serve the building very well for the remainder of its life,” said Michael Granville, an architect with Darius Toraby Architects.

The acrylic, Granville says, would serve as a worthy substitute because it’s not as heavy as glass and is less likely to crack. But commissioners fear that by swapping out the frosted glass for acrylic, a key part of the clocktower’s signature look would be sacrificed.

For decades the building virtually stood alone at the mouth of the Queensboro Bridge and the curve in the neighborhood’s elevated subway line. Even with the rise of glassy towers peppered throughout the neighborhood, the architecturally-distinct building stands out.

The LPC approved the clock face restoration plan, but with the stipulation that the old glass panels be replaced with the same material.

“This is a real icon for the city and the entire borough ... this is the entry for the borough,” said Commissioner Diana Chapin. I think it’s very important that we establish details [and] materials that can be perceived as closely as possible to the original.”