The Long Island City Clocktower building, also known as the Bank of Manhattan building, is under threat of demolition following a recent sale. In spite of its recognizable stature in Long Island City, the building is not landmarked, despite its historical significance. The Bank of Manhattan building was built in 1924, the first skyscraper in Long Island City and the tallest building in the borough. The Long Island Star Journal proclaimed that it would make Bridge Plaza, then a gardened promenade in the City Beautiful style, “the new Times Square of Queens.” The Bank of Manhattan itself was founded by Aaron Burr originally as the city’s first water delivery service. Those operations were old to the city in the 1808 as the banking side of the company became more profitable.
In 2013, Untapped Cities had the special honor of being a media sponsor for No Longer Empty’s installation in the building. Over a series of events, we brought readers into the abandoned bank space on the ground floor, closed for decades, whose originally Neoclassical architecture and ornament had been covered up by the mundane non-architecture of modern banks. But behind white walls and up winding staircases the original details could be viewed. And down the staircase was a series of gorgeous bank vaults. All through the spaces, No Longer Empty commissioned site specific works within. During one fundraising dinner in the space, we took guests up the elevators to the rooftop to view the clock tower and the construction of the East Side Access tunnels straight below.
No Longer Empty hoped their exhibition would bring interest to the ground floor space and that a tenant might be secured for the first time in 25 years. Perhaps they were too successful–or perhaps it’s just being swept away by the onward march of development in Long Island City. As fallow as the ground floor retail has been, the real estate transactions show otherwise. The building has changed hands twice this year, selling at $15 million in May and for $30.9 million earlier this week. Tenants on the upper floors were told to vacate within 180 days in the face of upcoming demolition.
A campaign began quietly earlier this month to save the building but so far has yielded just 875 of the 1,125 signatures on a Change.org petition. Meanwhile the NYC Landmarks Commission has approved the building for preliminary review for landmark status, but supporters are unsure how soon demolition will begin.
As Rego-Forest Preservation director Michael Perlman writes in his support of landmarking:
” The Bank of The Manhattan Company clock tower is one of Queens’ most iconic and deserving landmarks, designed in a NeoGothic meets Art Deco style. On October 25, 1925, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published, “A 4-way clock tower will rise from the 11th floor and will be a landmark easily seen from all points of Queens, as well as from Manhattan.” In 1928, The NY Times reported that the Queens Chamber of Commerce recognized the Bank of The Manhattan Company tower with a first prize award for its architectural and civic value.”
Sign the petition here.