Inside the Clocktower

When it was completed in 1909, the original Met-Life headquarters at 5 Madison Ave was the tallest building in the world.

Met Life Tower
(thanks for sharing the pic, edenpictures!)

Though it lost the title in 1913 to the Woolworth, the Clocktower Building has been an integral part of the Manhattan skyline ever since. Personally, it’s my favorite illuminated rooftop:

Met Life
(thanks for sharing the pic, minwoo!)

Each clock on the building is 26.5 feet in diameter; each number measures 4 feet in height. The minute hands alone weigh half a ton each:

(photograph courtesy of DE Russell – check out his
Flickr page
for an excellent assortment of NY photos)

I recently had an opportunity to take a look inside the control room for one of the clocks, and wanted to share the beauty of the apparatus, still working decades after its installation. This is the front of the device…

Clock 01

…which connects to the clock hands via these cogs, which regulate the time:

Clock 02

The visible clock below mirrors the time displayed on the exterior for easy setting. I’m not sure how long this device has been in place, but man is it a beautiful antique (of course, the movie guy in me can’t help but think of The Hudsucker Proxy – could I use this to stop time??).

Clock 03

The room also features an old circuit breaker, still in use, as well as an old rotary phone – perhaps to double-check the time with?

Clock 04

I also had the opportunity to check out the top of the tower. The elevators only take you to a certain height, leaving a good 8 or 9 floors to hike. However, I loved the climb, as the staircase doesn’t seem to have changed since the building’s construction:

Clock 05

Lots of great designs in the iron work, including pineapples on each banister pole:

Clock 06

Tile work on the ground:

Clock 07

More and more steps…

Clock 08

More tile work (dusty due to the renovations):

Clock 09

Wall tiles and decoration:

Clock 10

Still going…

Clock 11

As you get close, the passage gets very small, becoming a tight iron spiral staircase taking you up the last few flights:

Clock 13

More steps…

Clock 14

And finally, the top of the tower, featuring an incredible 360-degree view of New York.

Clock 15

Clock 17

I love the bench ledge – I imagine Met Life execs bringing girls up here to impress them Mad Men-style back in the day:

Clock 16

South view:

Clock 18

South-west view:

Clock 19

The current owners are very film friendly, and have a lot of raw space for anyone looking to shoot. Definitely a pleasure to see it up close for the first time.


If you enjoyed reading this post, would you consider making a donation to help me make my first movie? The goal is $50,000, and to date, 1,728 Scouting NY readers have donated $36,348! Just $5 or $10 can make a difference - AND you get this snazzy Scouting NY sticker/magnet as a Thank-You gift! Click here to donate today!


And hey, if you've made it this far, why not follow us via RSS, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr?


  1. that’s sick dude. no NE view?

  2. Oh! I love everything about that staircase, especially the metalwork. So beautiful!

    Do you think execs really made girls walk up 9 flights of stairs, though?

  3. Just stumbled on this, just minutes after I read your post.

    Poor chap.

  4. Thanks, Scout!

    Maybe you can answer one thing that I’ve always wondered: what’s the deal with the two floors near the top, above the clock faces, the ones that are recessed in the arches? Are those offices? can those on the bottom of the two floors walk out onto the “balcony”?

    Also, are those small windows in the pyramid at the top to offices, or is it just the narrowing staircase up there?

  5. one of my favorite buildings in ny! when i lived on 23rd street i loved seeing the different colors each night. i once went inside to ask them how i could go about becoming the person who chooses and changes the colored lights… but i think i was told it was automated now. 🙁 so jealous that you got to go inside!

  6. I am so jealous!!! It’s always been my dream to go up into that tower! Judging from your pics, it’s even more beautiful & magical than I’d imagined!

    Did the owner/manager happen to mention why they haven’t been lighting the tower in different colors lately? It’s remained white at night for at least the past six months (more likely longer, but I’ve just been noticing it more since I moved to a place within view)! I actually wrote a letter about that to the “Met Life” company, but never heard back…

  7. I love how even the rarely seen last few flights are beautifully designed.

  8. Ive been saying to myself lately, I cant wait for you to move from the street level of Manhattan up to heights of the great Metropolis in order to record all the amazing stuff that all us mortals see from the ground.
    And there you go! Up into the clock tower! ENVY ENVY ENVY!
    Great blog and twitter. Thanks a billion for sharing.

  9. Woah! The view is great. It’s a little more grungy than I expected, but still really cool.

    BTW, it was particularly attractive in our first big snowstorm of the season. Here it is from Madison square park.

  10. I see this clock tower everyday at work and I don’t know how I feel about it. It was revamped in the 60s with a new facade. The only remaining part of it that is original is the clock… which is why it looks so conflicted to me.

  11. wow, that’s pretty awesome. I love the rotary dial phone. I wonder if it still works. I had a rotary dial phone when I was kid (and I’m only in my mid-20s)–my friends that came over had no idea how to use one.

  12. I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing these pictures. I’ve always loved that tower, it has sentimental connotations for me.

  13. I used to work there! I worked at CSFB, and we had offices in Eleven and One Madison Avenue. I walked over the bridge between the two all the time, and getting to go into the offices behind the clock was pretty cool. I loved working in those buildings – walking through those gorgeous lobbies each morning made me so happy.

  14. Great post (as per usual) …. thanks for sharing the nooks and secret places of NYC with us!

  15. Hi Scout,

    I love all your pics
    Note-those tile floors in the Clock Tower were standard in most working class buildings- still some now – in old walkups – also in the other boroughs- not Staten island- which was not really a part of the city until the Verazzano Bdg was build in the 1960s.

  16. Coolio, Julio.

  17. Awesome plog (photo blog?). I used to live two blocks from this building and appreciate seeing the inner workings. Keep up the good work!

  18. This is one of my favorite buildings in the city, and I feel lucky to have had this glimpse into it, vicarious though it may be. From the time I was little, I was obsessed with “where the stairs went.” Top floors always seem the most mysterious, I think. I hope you’ll feature more insider’s views from the upper levels of other buildings on your must-see list.

  19. Wow – I work in the building and always wondered what was up there. I also love the view of the flat iron building in the last picture. thanks for sharing Michael

  20. we always use the Koten brand of circuit breakers at home and they are good:’*

  21. What height above grade or elevation is the clock at? I’m surprised I couldn’t Google this. It is between the 25th and 27th floors – about 380′ elev? Anyone know for sure?

  22. spent yesterday (1/20/15) lunch watching the west clock face from Eataly’s rooftop restaurant – the minute hand only moved back & forth between the “8” and the “9” – anybody have an idea of what’s wrong?

  23. It’s 1 Madison Avenue, not 5 Madison Ave. There is no 5 Madison. The bridge shown in the first pic goes from the 10th floor of One Madison Ave to the 8th floor of Eleven Madison across 24th St and unlike the clock tower is open to all building employees.

    As far as I know the clocks don’t work, and haven’t since I started working in OMA (One Madison Ave) in ’98.