Interview with Franny Eberhart, Co-Chair of the Friends to Restore the Yorkville Clock

SAC: Franny, could you please give us a chronology of the restoration of the Yorkville Clock?

FE: The clock came down in November 1998, was reinstalled on October 15 , 1999 and the dedication ceremony is scheduled for October 29. The clock was ready to be installed before October 15 but we decided to wait until most of the funds were collected before we installed it. And, I should point out, the clock came down before the committee was formed.

SAC: How did that happen? 

FE: Margot Gayle, a local preservationist, was able to get a commitment from Robert Baird of Historical Arts & Casting to do the restoration work. They've done quite a bit of work on other NYC landmarks so it was pretty easy, through the help of SAC, to get approval from the Landmarks Commission. Mr. Baird knew what we were trying to accomplish and was confident we would be able to raise the funds, so he was willing to make the investment of time and energy to get the ball rolling. All of us concerned with the clock were really hoping to get the clock taken down before winter came. Without the generosity and patience of Robert Baird, it would have been a much more difficult endeavor.

SAC: Why the rush?

FE: The glass on the clock face was cracked and we didn't want the rain and show to cause any more problems. There are two protective bollards in place so that offers some protection from trucks and automobiles...but we wanted to prevent any further deterioration.

SAC: And the committee? 

FE: Well, Margot and I contacted friends and preservation groups in the neighborhood to tell them about the clock coming down and from that a committee was formed. About a dozen of us in all.

SAC: What was the first step in your fund raising endeavors?

FE: To pull in some immediate money to pay for the printing brochure. Leadership gifts totaling $5,000.00 gave us both the confidence (and a deposit) so that we could proceed, and the capital to pay for a fundraising brochure, designed by a volunteer graphic artist. I should point out that it cost us about 10% of our goal to pull in the necessary money. That was a great savings right away. We printed 2,000 brochures for about $500.00 but we used only about 1,300 of the brochure. They were mailed out to members of neighboring block associations and membership lists of preservation groups. What we didn't do was to reach out to area merchants...and I feel we could have gotten money from them. 

SAC: But neighboring establishments did cooperate in other ways. Please explain.

FE: The view of the clock was blocked by two awnings that extended to the curb. We approached Parade Shoes and McDonald's and asked them if they would alter their awnings so that the clock would be more visible and prominent. They were great. McDonald's even hosted several committee meetings. On the day the clock was installed they donated $1.00 per special meal for the clock. And they put a sign in the window about the clock. Of course, we had to deal with the Department of Transportation to get approval to alter the awnings. We tried to do as much as the work involved as we could to make it easier for Parade Shoes and McDonald's to make the changes. Now you get a good view of the clock as you walk on Third Avenue.

SAC: What about fund-raising expenses?

FE: It cost about 10% of the income to pull in the necessary money. The real killer was postage costs. And the envelopes. We very wisely put in envelopes for donors to use to send in their contributions. I very much recommend that. But it all costs money. An expense we hadn't planned for was preparing the sidewalk for the clock. We had to pour cement and install the bolts that would secure the clock. Nobody had thought of this.

SAC: How were the donations processed?.

FE. Another important step. A neighborhood not-for-profit, the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, was a partner in the project and agreed to be our "banker" to accept donations and acknowledge the tax-deductible gifts. Any group playing this role in a clock project must have a sound philosophical connection to the project to meet IRS standards. 

SAC: What was your game plan to pull in the money?

FE: Well, you know the answer to that! It was your idea to "sell" hours of the week and that's what we did. We knew we would be looking for about $20,000.00. There are 168 hours in a week. If we sold each one for $75.00 that would pull in $12,600. We also "sold" the north clock face and the south clock face for more...and that is basically how we did it. We put this on the brochure... and people liked it. Someone would "buy" an hour that was important to him or her...say, Sunday 1 PM - 2 PM...the hour they were married. It proved to be a good "hook".

SAC: And, I should point out that at this point, that I got the idea from the Ayer Mill Clock Committee in Lawrence, Massachusetts that raised over $600,000.00 to restore that great clock some years ago. The local newspaper, the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, regularly ran lists of donor and which hours were available. Great idea and I am going to suggest it to other clock committees.

FE: Two of the gifts were for $2,500.00 but most were for $75.00. We pulled in $21,000.00 which leaves a small endowment. We will set this money aside to deal with any problems in the future...repainting, replacing the electrical mechanism. We decided against a service contract with the maker of the mechanism as it should last for 10 years or so. We will also find out the exact black paint that was used..and have it ready in case any graffiti appears. And, McDonald's even offered to install a surveillance camera aimed at the clock to monitor any vandalism.

SAC: Any problems so far?

FE: No, but we are prepared to paint over any graffiti right away.

SAC: Who will change the hours for Daylight Savings Time?

FE: We had several keys made so one of us will go there and make the change twice a year. 

SAC: Where does the project stand now?

FE: In a few days we are having a small dedication ceremony. And we are looking into catastrophic insurance. Fortunately, protective bollards were put in place some years hopefully the clock is protected from cars, trucks, snowplows, taxis...but we think we should investigate insurance options.

SAC: All in all, a successful operation. You, the committee and the donors should be proud for what you have accomplished. Congratulation!

FE: We are delighted! Now the neighborhood has a terrific timepiece and a piece of New York's past has been saved. Great!