Developers can cut access to historic Manhattan clock tower, court rules

Two lower courts sided with Save America's Clocks. However, Appellate Judge Michael J. Garcia, in his ruling, said the Landmarks Preservation Commission doesn't have the authority to dictate access to the building and that the agency's decision to make the clock run electronically was rational. Photo Credit: Google Maps

The mechanics of the clock in the former New York Life Insurance Company building will be replaced with an electronic system.

Two lower courts sided with Save America's Clocks. However, Appellate Judge Michael J. Garcia, in his ruling, said the Landmarks Preservation Commission doesn't have the authority to dictate access to the building and that the agency's decision to make the clock run electronically was rational.
Two lower courts sided with Save America’s Clocks. However, Appellate Judge Michael J. Garcia, in his ruling, said the Landmarks Preservation Commission doesn’t have the authority to dictate access to the building and that the agency’s decision to make the clock run electronically was rational. Photo Credit: NEWSDAY/Al Raia

The state’s highest court ruled Thursday against a group of preservationists who sued to stop a developer from preventing access to the historic clock tower at the former New York Life Insurance Company Building.

The majority judges in the New York State Court of Appeals’ 4-2 decision ruled that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission acted appropriately when it approved the plans by Civic Center Community Group Broadway LLC to convert 346 Broadway into residential spaces.

The Neo-Italian Renaissance building, which was constructed during the late 19th century and fully opened in 1898, had its interiors landmarked by the LPC in 1987. The activist group Save America’s Clocks contended in its 2015 lawsuit that a development would make its clock tower only accessible to a private owner. The group also argued that the developer’s intention to replace the clock’s mechanical systems with an electronic system violated the landmark protections.

Two lower courts sided with Save America’s Clocks. However, Appellate Judge Michael J. Garcia, in his ruling, said the LPC doesn’t have the authority to dictate access to the building and the agency’s decision to make the clock run electronically was rational.

“At base, the Landmarks Law makes plain that the LPC’s decision with respect to the clock tower was well within the ambit of its discretion,” Garcia wrote.

Representatives from Save America’s Clocks and the LPC didn’t return messages for comment.

In her dissent, Judge Jenny Rivera, argued that the clock and its mechanisms were crucial to the city’s history and the public should have access to its interiors.

“While it might be more profitable to disavow the clatter of the Cyclone, the sight of the Navy Yard dry dock, or the pace of the retractile Carroll Street Bridge, New York City appreciates these elements and the quality they add to public life,” she wrote.

Ivan Pereira