“Big Ben” at 108 Leonard in court again

The Times and Crain’s report that the case against the developers of 108 Leonard to protect the building’s clock tower — a rare city interior landmark — was heard in the state’s highest court, after succeeding at both the State Supreme Court and the Appellate Division; the ruling is pending. (Thanks to James for the catch.) The case was first brought in 2016; now three years later, it continues even as the building’s apartments are listed for sale. The penthouse with the clock is not, as of now, part of the plan. Here’s the summary from the Times:

A judge in State Supreme Court ruled in the opponents’ favor in 2016, and the Appellate Division upheld the decision in 2017, saying the landmarks commission’s action was “irrational” and based on advice from its lawyer that the judges said was mistaken.

“This majestic clock, and its historically significant functioning mechanism, is a perfect example of the very reason the landmarks law exists,” the appellate judges said in their opinion. Referring to the Landmarks Preservation Commission by initials, they added, “The actions of the LPC in this case are contrary to that purpose.”

The state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, heard the case last month, and a ruling is pending. “Our plans may change depending on what comes out of the litigation,” Ms. Sax [the chief marketing officer for one of the developers] said, adding that the case was “not for us to win or not win.”



Until 2015, the clock at the top of the building kept time and was wound by hand (see Carl Glassman’s 2014 video of the inner workings above). Private ownership of the building has gotten in the way of that. Again, from the Times:

The blocklong building that houses the clock was owned by the city, which sold it in 2013 to the developers. The next year, the developers went to the landmarks commission about the clock tower, saying that it was inaccessible to the public and that they wanted to electrify the clock mechanism without moving it.

Some clock experts worry that electrifying it could ruin it.

Access is necessary because the clock can only be maintained by hand, say opponents of the penthouse project. For nearly 40 years, the city’s official clock master, Marvin Schneider, did the job.

That was easy when the city owned the building, and at first, the new owners — the developers — allowed him in. But in March 2015, he said, they told him he was no longer welcome. The clock stopped soon after that, Mr. Schneider said.

“Supposedly, the New York City landmarks law was given a jump-start by the demolition of Penn Station” in the 1960s, Mr. Schneider said. “Something of great significance like that should not have been summarily torn down. There should be protection. So that’s pretty much how I felt about the clock. It’s a testament to American pre-eminence in the clock field in the late 19th century, that a clock like that could be made on that scale to function well enough in this age. You could still set your watch by it.”

Ms. Sax, the developer’s marketing chief, said that the clock “had to be protected from dust” during construction for the condominium conversion and that “it was dangerous to have access to the space at the time.”

Mr. Schneider, 79, was heartbroken. He had spent nearly half his life tending the clock after resuscitating it in 1980.



  1. I can attest that the clock was extremely accurate as I was woken up every hour on the hour after I first moved into a building next to the clock tower. After about a week or so, the clock became soulful background dins inside our apartment. My friends and I once joined Forest for a routine maintenance and clock winding session. It was incredible! And while Forest wound the clock and tinkered with the gears, my friends and I went around to all four sides and changed the burned out bulbs that surrounded the face of the clock on each side. That night, we all had such pride as we viewed the clock from the ground way south on Broadway with all the bulbs aglow :)

  2. It is absolutely absurd that the LPC is allowing moneyed interests and political gamesmanship to try to destroy a landmarked structure that has meaning to so many citizens. Where would NYC be if we allowed short sighted narcissists to destroy anything they wanted in the name of profit.

    How can the LPC possibly be this wanton and reckless?!

  3. LPC is thoroughly compromised at this point. A bunch of self proclaimed experts who used to make small developers jump through hoops for a single story. Look what they have done?