Support Voiced for 1920s Clock Tower

The Manhattan Bank Building in Long Island City, Queens. Image credit: LPC

The Manhattan Bank Building in Long Island City, Queens. Image credit: LPC

Property owners have agreed to restrictive declaration that would limit the development adjacent lots to heights of historic buildings, to preserve towers visible facades and clock faces. On April 21, 2015, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the potential designation Bank of Manhattan Company Long Island City Branch Building at 29-27 Queens Plaza North as a potential individual City landmark. The building, completed in 1927 to designs by architect Morrell Smith has three designed facades clad in tan brick in a Neo-Gothic style. A clock tower with a crenellated roof rises to 14 stories, and possesses four glass clock faces with roman numerals. The Queens-born Smith designed several prominent buildings in the borough, including the individually landmarked Jamaica Savings Bank. Smith was awarded a prize from the Queens Chamber of Commerce for the best business building of 1927 for the branch tower.

At the time of its construction, the tower was flanked by two older building that have since been demolished. The sites are currently vacant. The landmark site would only comprise the footprint of the original 1927 construction, not that of additions built in the 1930s.

Landmarks Counsel Mark Silberman stated that the owner, who also controlled the adjacent lots, had agreed to enter into a restrictive declaration that would limit the height of any development on the lots to that of the historic buildings that once stood there. The agreement to limit height would ensure that all facades of the tower would be at least partially visible to the public.

Brad Zackson, one the owners of the building, along with Property Markets Group, said the owners collectively supported designation, and appreciated the building’s role in the history of Long Island City and the borough, as well as its aesthetic merit. Zackson stated that they planned to restore the building “to its historic grandeur” and to ensure that all the clock faces worked and were in sync with one another.

Michael Hall of Plus Partners testified that designation was supported by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Queens Community Board 1, and the Queens Historical Society, among others. Hall said the tower was the tallest building in Queens until 1990, and called it an “architectural gem,” and “an emblem of New York City’s history.” Area resident Christian Emanuel called the building an icon of the Roaring twenties, that he hoped would also serve as a “symbol of preservation-conscious real estate development.” Dan Allen, of Cutsogeorge Tooman and Allen Architects, noted the numerous prominent buildings that once marked the commuter’s path to and from Manhattan along the Long Island Rail Road that have been lost or altered, and urged Landmark to quickly designate this surviving remnant.  The Society for Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough urged the tower’s preservation as a “historic center” in a rapidly redeveloping Long Island City and as marker of travelers’ trajectory through Queens.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said she was pleased by the reception to the proposed designation, and noted that the commission had received a petition consisting of over 250 signatures in support of landmarking. Commissioner Michael Devonshire called the property owners “visionaries” for their recognition of the building’s value, and their willingness to limit the height of adjacent properties to maintain views of the clock tower. Commissioner Michael Goldblum also praised the owners and landmarks staff for the deed restriction, which he called “a great compromise,” and something that should be considered more often in the future.

Commissioner and Queens resident Diana Chapin called the building “eminently worthy.”

Chair Srinivasan closed the hearing, stating that a vote on designation would be held on May 12.

LPC: The Bank of Manhattan Company Long Island City Branch Building, 29-27 Queens Plaza North, Queens (LP-2570) (April 21, 2015).

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