Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Schwarzenbach's Silk Clock

A reader, who is a clock collector and preservationist, writes in:

"The amazing silk clock on Park and 32nd has vanished. I asked a worker what the story was, as they are doing work on the building, and I had hoped that they were having it repaired. But the worker said the building was going to move it inside. Hopefully this is incorrect."

He sent in a photo of the spot where the clock used to be, now just a hole covered by a piece of plywood under scaffolding.

Originally known as the Schwarzenbach Buildings, for Schwarzenbach Looms, 470 Park Avenue South was once the home of silk importers. The gorgeous Silk Clock was installed in 1926, flanked by carved terra-cotta silk moths created by fauvist artist Marguerite Zorach.

via David Cobb Craig, Street Clocks in NY

At the time, the New York Times reported:

"In behalf of the Schwarzenbach enterprises, a 'Silk Clock,' made of bronze, was dedicated yesterday morning... The clock, which juts from the wall of the Schwarzenbach Building, was unveiled by Mr. Schwarzenbach's sons, Robert M. and Jean Christophe, before two hundred guests assembled in the street. A figure of Zoroaster, 'the mastermind and doer of all things,' is perched atop the clock. At his feet is a cocoon, and beyond sits a slave representing the 'primitive forces and instincts of man.' Every hour Zoroaster waves a wand, and the slave, rising at the will of his master, swings a hammer against the cocoon. Promptly the 'Queen of Silk' emerges from the cocoon, a tulip in her hand, and not until the hour has ceased striking does she disappear."

You can view that action in this video.

Today, 470 Park Avenue South is going through changes. On its scaffolding banner it is proclaimed, "MIDTOWN SOUTH'S CUTTING EDGE."

According to the Commercial Observer, the property is "part of a $1.2 billion joint venture between TIAA-CREF and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global," and it "undergoing an extensive redevelopment, with lobby renovations set to commence shortly."

What will happen to the clock, and to the silk moth carvings that frame it, in the renovations? Our tipster also talked to a building tenant: "He said he assumed they would return the clock, but was distraught about them ruining the original face of the building with the silk moths, etc. They're destroying the entire lobby, and building a two-floor glass entrance on the building."

He urges us all to call the building manager, at 212-372-2244, and tell them to save this amazing piece of New York history. Since the first photo above was taken, the facade of the building has been covered in demolition plywood. Will Marguerite's silk moths be blasted away forever? Will the Silk Clock be returned to the street so everyone can enjoy it?


David Robeano said...

The clock, I believe was sculpted by William Zorach, Marguerite's husband.

Unknown said...

I worked on the lobby site. According to building management, the city of New York is creating a lot of difficulties in re installing the clock. I believe it has something to do with it being a canteliever structure. Not sure if it be put back. You'll likely see it at a museum. As for the carvings, they aren't terra cotta. I've seen them in the storage room. They are solid concrete and weigh a ton. Quite fascinating actually.

Unknown said...

The clock is back - it's now installed at the north end of the buildings. Don't know when it returned.