Interview with Marvin Schneider New York City's Clockmaster

Q. Why does a city need a clockmaster?

A. Clocks, like most public amenities, need upkeep. New York has taken the lead in re-establishing the position of clockmaster. Years ago, many cities had clockmasters but somehow the tradition of maintaining our clocks slipped away. I am responsible for about 12 of New York's publically owned clocks.

Q. What is your favorite? 

A. Certainly 346 Broadway, a city-owned landmarked building. The 1897 Howard mechanism is included in the landmarking status. I made sure of that. It's a wonderful mechanism Most clocks have been electrified over the course of time so we are lucky to have this one. 

Q. Why are public clocks important?

A. For many reasons. Primarily, of course, because people need them. Not everyone wears a watch...certainly more do now than years ago when public clocks were an object of civic pride. How frustrating to see a transit clock not working! We depend on these clocks. Public clocks are also part of the landscape and are indicative of what goes on in the building. What does it say to community not to have your clock working? We don't care? Somehow our attention shifted to other things. Certainly with the millennium approaching these clocks should be working. Not all clocks are masterpieces, but even the mundane ones should tell the time. 

Q. What do you say to the owners of public clocks?

A. That they are heirs to a public trust. Owners can show their commitment to the community and have great public relations at the same time: just fix your clocks! Modern systems change the clock at daylight savings time so maintenance can be very simple. Just seems to make sense, doesn't it?

Marvin Schneider has been New York City's clockmaster since 1992. He is also vice-president of SAVE AMERICA'S CLOCKS.