Landmark Preservation Commission calendars the Clock Tower

By Bill Parry

Preservationists in western Queens breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when the Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously to give the Clock Tower in Long Island City its chance at landmark designation.

The vote to “calendar” the historic 14-story building came after a presentation by the commission’s Research Department that highlighted the building’s quality of construction, prominence on Queens Plaza, and connection to the Bank of Manhattan’s history.

When famed architect Morrell Smith designed the neo-classical building for the Bank of Manhattan in 1927, it was the tallest building in the borough until the construction of the Citigroup building in Court Square. Advocates argued that it is one of the most significant architectural landmarks in the borough.

The commission’s vote ensures that the Clock Tower will receive provisional protections under the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law until its candidacy for landmark designation is formally heard at a public hearing, which could be held as early as April.

Preservationists grew alarmed when the building’s owner, Property Markets Group, filed for permits to build a 70-story mixed-use tower on the land adjacent to the Clock Tower at 21-37 41st Ave. The belief was that such a project would endanger the Clock Tower before it could be protected with landmark status.

The building has been mostly vacant for the last 25 years, but when Property Market Group bought the property for $31 million in November, the remaining tenants received notices of lease termination informing them of the “landlord’s intention to demolish all or part of the building.”

That’s when Michael Hall and Matthew Chrislip, two preservationists who live in the area, swung into action by forming +Partners and waging an online campaign to preserve the architectural heritage of Long Island City.

The duo gathered more than 1,400 signatures and the support of elected officials, supporters and advocates during the past year.

“In preparation for the public hearing, we will continue to gather signatures for our petition, which can be found by visiting licclocktower.org,” they said in a statement. “We will also be working to secure additional support, both formal and informal, from community leaders, civic associations and local cultural institutions. We hope for, and anticipate, a strong show of support from community members at the public hearing, at which we will be offering testimony to the commission.”

Hall and Chrislip can count on the support of City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

“I have long supported the designation of the Clock Tower as a landmark,” he said. “I am pleased the LPC agrees with me and the community to preserve this historic structure. I was proud to help give this community coordinated grassroots campaign additional support to ensure the Clock Tower building stands for another 90 years.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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