“You take the elevator to the 12th floor, then climb the stairs to the 13th floor. In the gallery there is a ladder that takes you into the tower with the clockworks. This 1890s space and view is a wonderful but solitary way to embrace our town.”
Built in 1898, the Clocktower building was one of the many gilded wonders created in Manhattan by the architectural team of McKim, Mead & White. It was capped, as the name suggests, with a beautiful mechanical clock, the city’s largest, with “more than a dozen gears, ranging in diameter from a half inch to two feet… attached to a hammer that hourly strikes a 5,000-pound bronze bell.”
By the seventies the clock tower itself, if not the building, had been long abandoned – in that particular New York habit of forgetting its architectural treasures – the clock itself had stopped working, the glass was broken and the clocktower had been left to molder.
But in the 1973 the space just below the clock — originally planned as Stanford White’s entertaining room, before he was murdered for “entertaining” the murderer’s wife — was turned into the Clocktower Gallery, a part of the alternative space movement and PS1 founder Alanna Heiss’s effort to find new unusual art spaces in New York City. The legendary “Clocktower Gallery” brought artists in close contact with the clock, and many incorporated it into their art, including one artist who hung naked from the clock and bathed himself with a hose.
The clock tower got another revitalization when in 1979 Marvin Schneider and Eric Reiner convinced the city to let them repair it. Despite having little in the way of horological experience, they succeeded and today Marvin Schneider is the city’s clock master — the first in many decades — and he still operates the now perfectly working clock. Every Wednesday morning he hoists two 800-pound weights whose slow descent powers the clock until the next week.
After 9/11 the clock tower was made off-limits to visitors. The building is a government building and today one needs an “in” to visit the clock. The tower (though not the part with the clock mechanics) currently serves as the broadcast center of Art International Radio Alanna Heiss’s internet radio station.
In 2013, the Clocktower Gallery announced it would be closing in November as the building was sold. However, the clock tower itself is still operating and wound once a week.