HISTORY OF THE YORKVILLE CLOCK
Local clockwatchers are aware that the historic Yorkville Clock is missing from the
sidewalk in front of the Reimann & Breese Furniture store at 1501 Third Avenue near
85th Street. The proprietors of the store, Ann Davenport and her two sons, agreed with
neighborhood preservationists that the tall cast-iron clock should be restored. It is now
in Utah at the foundry of Historical Arts and Casting, Inc. and will return in the spring
The clock was removed early on the morning of November 20, 1998. A sizable group of
preservationists and other friends of the clock, including the area's city council member
Gifford Miller, watched in awe as ta portable crane lifted its tow large, very heavy
components in preparation for its trip.
The old clock, formerly in the shadow of the Third Avenue elevated railroad, was a
community favorite from the day in 1898 when Adolph Stern had it set up in front of his
jewelry store at 1508 Third Avenue, NW corner of 85th Street, where a 36-story Park Lane
Towers apartment house now stands. In 1923 Sterns Store, having added a pawn shop, moved
with its clock across the street to 1501 Third Avenue, between 84th and 85th Streets. A
memorable 1945 motion picture, "The Lost Weekend," shows an inebriated Ray
Milland clinging to the clocks as an elevated train rumbles overhead.
The 17 foot tall Yorkville clock, simulating a giant to faced pocket watch , was
designated an official New York City landmark on August 25, 1981, along with the few other
remaining sidewalk clocks in the five boroughs. It was produced by the E. Howard Clock
Co., headquarted in Massachusetts with New York office at 532 Broadway. The company had
manufactured sidewalk clocks since 1870.
In the second half of the 19th century similar tall cast iron sidewalk clocks became very
popular throughout the United States. Merchants used them for advertising, and they served
the public by telling correct time for the many people who could not afford pocket
About a hundred years after it first appeared on Third Avenue, the Yorkville Clock, by
this time owned by Reimann & Breese Furniture Store, had quixotic experience. In 1985,
a city employee mistakenly sold it as surplus city property to a clock devotee named Frank
Dorsa who planned to display it in his family's collection in Muttontown, Long Isand. When
Dorsa went to Reimann & Breese hoping to locate missing clock pieces, he was almost
arrested as a thief. Only his bill of sale saved him. Apprised of the unfortunate sale,
Mayor Edward Koch's special assistant, Herbert Rickman, negotiated the clock's return and
also the reimbursement to the Dorsa family.
An antique dealer named Louis Agrusa volunteered to refurbish the old clock. The cost of
materials and equipment came to more than $10,000, raised from many local donors, among
them the clock owner Leo Davenport, the weekly newspaper Our Town and neighborhood clock
ally, Cynthia Crane, who had loved the clock since childhood. Hailed as "the comeback
clock" the historic timepiece, reerected at its old location, was unveiled
ceremoniously on February 23, 1989.
The clock's many moves over the last year contributed to its ser1ious deterioration over
the last decade. By early 1998, its need for repairs was evident once again. It ran
sporadically. Often one face told one time and the other another. The glass on one face
was cracked and taped in place. Its iron pedestal, defaced by graffiti, showed patches of
rust where paint had peeled off.
After Robert Baird of Historical Arts and Casting, who restored Central park's cast-iron
bridges, evaluated the clock's condition, residents and preservationists agreed that a
complete overhaul was imperative. Although Baird is donating certain services, the cost of
the clock's total restoration will be $18,000. So a new group was organized in November of
1998: Neighbors Restoring the Historic Yorkville clock, to raise the funds and also to
serve as guardians of the clock's future.
Margot Gayle February 1999