The Amazing Wizard Of Park Ave

Merry Belated Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Holidays/Etc.! I was grappling with two enormous backpacks on my way out of the city on Tuesday when I noticed this great cast-iron (?) clock on the Schwarzenbach Building at 470 Park Avenue South btw. 31st & 32nd Street.

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In my pictures it looks prominent, but this is something you’d almost assuredly miss on Park Ave South. Surrounded by tall buildings and skyscrapers leading up to the show-stealing MetLife building, it’s nearly invisible to passersby, which is too bad because how often is there a wizard at work just above your head?

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The clock is beautiful in itself, with its flowing silkworms and mulberry leaves (a silkworm’s favorite food – Schwarzenbach was in the silk business), but the wizard casting a spell on top is especially great.

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How incredible is that? According to WallyG’s flickr post and this NY Times FYI article, it was designed by McKim, Mead & White, and artist William Zorach. Apparently, this is not Merlin, but is in fact Zoroaster, “the mastermind and doer of all things.” At his feet is a cocoon, and beyond sits a slave representing the “primitive forces and instincts of man.”

But it gets even better: Zoroaster waves his wand on the hour, and “the slave swings a hammer against the cocoon, triggering the emergence of the ‘Queen of Silk’, tulip in her hand, and not until the hour has ceased striking does she disappear.” I wish I had known – I would’ve stayed ten more minutes to see it.

This clock is a rarity – to this day, it’s weight-driven by a pendulum. The detail is especially great – look at the symbols on his robe up close:

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The symbols are pretty much invisible if you’re not up close, which is of course impossible from the street, and yet the artist chose to add them regardless.

As a side note, this clock had stopped working and been left to fall apart until 1984, when the current building owner, S.L. Green, asked the Pratt Institute’s chief engineer to restore it.  It’s great that they’d choose to preserve it, in a world where most companies would just as soon junk it and save the money.

Who knew there was a wizard on Park Ave?

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28 comments

  1. Very nice!!

  2. Wow! I have seen that clock hundreds of times, and never noticed the wizard.

    Thanks for pointing him out.

  3. wow this is great, lol. thank those neatorama people. this is awesome an amazing blog.

  4. Absolutely gorgeous! I will go out of my way to check it out & wait for it to strike the hour when I’m in the city in 2 weeks.
    Yet again I’m amazed by your eye for detail & camera work.

  5. I love stumbling upon places like this in the city. I’m going to be sure to check out this clock.

  6. Wow. Great post and a great photoblog; I just read the whole thing; getting here via Laughing Squid.

    Keep up the great work!

  7. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in that area and never looked up, at least in the right spot. Very cool.

  8. I don’t see the cocoon. To me it looks like the wizard is in front of an anvil, which would make sense as that is what someone (in this case, the slave) would hammer against.

  9. Oh, I just noticed the concrete work, the Moth surrounded by mulberry leaves. I’m in Phoenix, and we don’t have much of anything historical like this. It makes me think that I need to spend a few days in NYC sometime soon. It’s been a while since I’ve haunted those streets.

  10. I can’t believe I never saw this. My father had his offices in three different locations within two blocks of this masterpiece, and in thirty-something years I never noticed it.

    Do you know for a fact that it’s cast iron? From the color and the smooth finish I’d think it’s bronze.

    Super kudos to SL Green, btw. Whoda thunk it?

  11. Wanted to let you know that I visited the Schwarzenbach Building on a trip into the city on Sat. A tip if you try to get there when the clock strikes on the hour: the action actually happens @ about 2 minutes before. I was there just before noon, getting my camera ready, sitting it on the mail boxes nearby, & I heard a faint sound, looked up, & the Queen popped up for about 2 seconds. It all happened so fast, I couldn’t get any pics. I didn’t notice the wand waving or the slave swinging his hammer, it honestly happened that quick. I was so disappointed to not get pics. I waited till it went to noon to see if anything else happened, but that was it.
    So if you go, get there early, & have the camera ready, & start snapping early.
    You’re also right about it being easy to miss. I came out of the subway entrance right there on Park Ave, started walking, & then pulled out my google map, & had walked about 15 steps past it before I realized I had walked right under it! It is gorgeous. Even the detail on the clock hands is pretty, & the tile mosaic above the clock is beautiful. I forgot to get pics of that because I thought you had pics of that on here.

  12. I’m pretty sure it’s bronze — not cast iron.

  13. Good effort.Well done to see it and then have the motivation to get it on to the site . Keep it up mate

  14. I’ve worked directly across the street from that clock (at 475 Park Ave South) for the better part of ten years and have never once noticed it. How ironic that, two days before we move our offices downtown, I’m directed to this blog post. Thank you for pointing out a tiny wonder I’d never have known I’d missed.

  15. I work in this building and adore our clock. It’s one of only two articulated clocks in the City. (The other is the famous animal clock in Central Park.) On the hour, a Venus like figure rises up, and spins around. The Wizard’s wand waves up and down 12 times, regardless of what hour it is. I was told that it was originially restored by the gentleman who repaired the clock when it was first installed.

  16. This is a fantastic find, as is your site (and work). How many gems like this (not necessarily clocks) have gone unnoticed in NYC alone—dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Here’s to hoping you find more!

  17. I thought the wizard was at Park and 73rd….

  18. So much magic in that old town. God I miss New York.

  19. I am definitely going to go out of my way to stop by the Metlife building. I love this site and the interesting posts I discover. Thanks for sharing and keep it up.

  20. sibyl schwarzenbach

    Glad you like the clock. The building (and clock) were commissioned by my grandfather Robert. In fact, I have the wooden artist’s model (same size I think) of the Goddess of Silk at home in NYC.
    I will take a photo of it and send it you — if you like.

    best, Sibyl Schwarzenbach

    • Hi Sibyl. I work nearby the beautiful silk clock and am a clock collector myself. A few days ago the clock vanished. Do you know anyone we could contact for more information? I’d love to see the photo as well if you have it.

  21. It takes a location scout’s eye to notice things like that. Good work. I will check it out next time I’m in NYC.

  22. I loved stuff like this when I was in NYC! I did historic walking tours, tasting tours, ect. Thanks so much for your blog! I loved the city, but I’m now in CO…I love it too for different reasons. I go back occassionally, and I’ll look for these hidden treasures!

  23. It looks like bronze to me too…

  24. Another great detail. So glad they decided to save this save this clock, seams like the owners enjoy it as much as we do.

  25. I’m sad to say that this past week I noticed that the building was doing some work on a side door and that the clock had been removed. I asked one of the workers what was happening and he said the building wanted to move the clock indoors. I hope they decide otherwise but wanted to give you the heads up.

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