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A Clocktower Landmark in New York

NYC History NYC Story

Gordon Matta Clark was the first on the scene in a seminal and clever 1974 video entitled “Clockshower”. Woody Allen considered it for a location, Amy Grant shot a music video up there and if you’ve seen 9 and ½ Weeks you may recognize it from the steamy love scene (skip to 1:30) between Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke (according to Marvin, a crack in one of the windows was caused by an overly passionate Basinger during the film shoot).

If you’ve ever had to go to Summons Court in New York City for unpaid parking tickets or an open container violation, you’ve been to 346 Broadway. You’ve slunk to the Leonard street entrance, passed through metal detectors and ascended a grand staircase that feels like it’s out of some Parisian hotel lobby. You then probably had to wait on line for three hours just to get your summons dismissed.

But if you had continued up from the semi-circular elevator bank to the 12th floor, entered through the odd red door to your left and climbed a flight of stairs, you would’ve stumbled into the Clocktower Gallery. Founded by Alanna Heiss in 1972 (who also started PS1 a year earlier) the Clocktower Gallery is a wondrous home for art in an unlikely location.  Home to Art on Air Radio, an Internet radio station that does what it sounds like, as well  residency programs for studio artists that work with everything from large-scale sculpture installation to experimental music to DNA replication.

Now, if you continued up another flight of stairs to the upper gallery, you’d find an installation by Puerto Rican artist Papo Colo. BUT if you come early in the morning and on the right day, you’ll ascend the spiral staircase to the top of the building’s 20-foot tall tower and, with the help of Clockmaster Marvin Schneider, you can check out, up close and personal, the original 1897 clock that gives the gallery its name.

If you took our architecture tour, you’d know all about Stanford White, the pre-eminent architect of the 20th century who designed 108 Leonard Street as the HQ of the New York Life Insurance Company. The engineers for the building figured a way for the master clock to command a hundred smaller clocks throughout the building with a system of weights and wires. The building and its gorgeous clock fell into disrepair in the mid-20th century but Marvin gained access to it in the 1980’s and, with permission from the city, started to tinker with it.

Marvin has been taking care of this clock as well as many others around the city ever since. Needless to say, he has a passion for antiquated systems and a penchant for history. In fact, he and his apprentice Forrest are currently hunting down a historic New York mystery involving the building. Before 1948, a magnificent, huge statue of Atlas and his ubiquitous globe were erected on the east side of the building, and sometime between 1948 and 1952 it disappeared. How anyone could have absconded with a statue weighing a few tons is beyond me, but thats why its a mystery!

And as for the sad case of Ferd Rueter, a troubled young man who was found hanging from the spiral staircase a hundred years ago, the clock has its share of NYC ghost stories too.

The smaller clocks throughout the building are gone now, but the master clock ticks on. And its enormous bell tolls every hour on the hour. Come hear it during visiting hours, Tuesday through Friday from 12pm-5pm or at the open house events, which you can find at ARTonAIR.org

By Jonah Levy