The Clock Tower Building: Grand Plans in Search of Landmarks Blessing

A rendering of how the lower level of 346 Broadway's former banking hall might appear as a restaurant, one of the possible commercial uses for the restored, two-level space. Its marble staircase to the second floor would be moved. Rendering: Beyer Blinder Belle

Oct. 31, 2014

“We are going to bring this building right up to the 21st century,” architect John Beyer told Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee last month.

The building, 346 Broadway, is a city landmark, not only on the outside but with more interior landmarked spaces than any in the city. Known as the Clock Tower Building, it is slated for an ambitiously complex renovation and restoration that will convert the 14-story building to condominium apartments.

“Although the building is sound, there’s a fair amount of deterioration, all of which will be re­stored perfectly,” said Beyer, of the firm Beyer Blinder Belle.

The proposal, by developers Peebles Corp. and the El Ad Group, who bought the building from the city in May, will go before the Land­marks Pres­er­vation Com­­­mission on Nov. 18. CB1, in its resolution to the commission, said there was “much to admire” about the plan, “not least of which is the developer’s intent to bring back some glory to a crumbling monument.” But the board came down hard on much of it, too, calling the proposal “daunting and distressing.”

(The plan has separately raised the hackles of CB1 for the allotment of promised community-related space in the building.)

The once grand head­quarters of the New York Life In­surance Co., enlarged by McKim, Mead & White and completed in 1897, was taken over by the city for agency offices in 1967. Over the years the building has fallen into disrepair, sometimes dangerously so. For years a sidewalk bridge has obscured the ground floors of the Broadway and Leonard Street sides of the building, serving as protection against the risk of falling chunks of facade.

Among the most dramatic features of the proposal is the relocation, in its entirety, of a landmark marble room, the President’s Office Suite, from the fourth floor to the first. The developers want to install a third elevator-and-stair core, which would go through that space.

The former banking hall, with its marble walls and ornate ceiling, would become a commercial space (shown above as a restaurant) and its marble staircase to the balcony moved to accommodate the new core. “Every piece of it,” Beyer said, “the walls, the balustrades, treads, risers, everything” will be moved.

Another landmarked interior space, now offices on the second floor, would be converted into apartments, and the clock tower turned into a triplex penthouse.

“So you’re going to tell prospective owners that they can’t screw in wide-screen TV sets, they can’t put in curtains,” said the committee’s co-chair, Bruce Ehrmann. 

Beyer conceded that incorporating publicly protected spaces into private residences was “unique.”

“It is almost satirical to think of its occupant coming to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for permission to put up wallpaper or a curtain bar,” the CB1 resolution noted.

As for the building’s much loved timepiece, CB1 said “a directive must be put in place to keep the clock working.”

The building is proposed to have a 12,000-square-foot green roof “almost like an elevated park for people around us,” Bey­er said, that would sit atop a 13th-floor glass-walled roof addition, visible from the street.

The board saved its choicest words for that part of the plan. “The as­semblage looks somewhat as if a circa 1980s suburban corporate campus were plopped on top of the building,” the resolution stated. 

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