The lion and unicorn clock above William Street

New York needs more street clocks, those lovely public time pieces that people in a pre-smartphone world relied on to let them know they were late for an appointment.

Or maybe we just need to refurbish the ones that already exist—like this lion and unicorn themed clock four stories up above the entrance to 84 William Street, at Maiden Lane.

In 1907, this breathtaking 17-floor building—a confection of Georgia marble, red bricks, and terra cotta—was the brand-new headquarters of the Royal Life Insurance Company.

An article that year in American Architect and Building News reported that the clock reproduced, “the lion and unicorn which form a part of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, and replacing the shield by a marble and bronze clock-face eight feet in diameter.”

Lion heads decorate a ribbon of trim around the facade on the third floor. The image of a crown on the clock is a nice royal touch too.

At left is the building and clock as they originally looked; it’s virtually unchanged today in this shadowy corner of Lower Manhattan.

It’s unclear how long the company lasted here, but today, 84 William Street is an extended stay hotel.

Street clock hunting in New York can turn up some beauties, like this colorful terra cotta clock space on Avenue C and this cast-iron clock at an old shoe store on Duane Street.

And of course, no avenue in the city has more street clock loveliness than Fifth Avenue.

[Third Photo: MCNY]

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8 Responses to “The lion and unicorn clock above William Street”

  1. Zoé Says:

    Lovely wording w/ “confection” Ephemeral. Many people had pocket watches; but I suppose many more did not & needed to know the time as well. Yet again you have me thinking of things I never thought of before.

  2. Dymoon Says:

    I remember well such buildings, walking by and loving the architecture.. probably why I have kept the “love” for old buildings and especially doors.

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    Great clock….but why does it honor the UK? Was a British business or bank operating there?

  4. Rick Wagner Says:

    Not to be picky, but it appears the window under the clock is not “relatively unchanged. The 1907 version differs from the later picture and in the final picture it looks like it was shrunk from an attractive casement window down to a single doube-hung window. Shame.

    • Zoé Says:

      Your comment caused me to take a closer look at both photos Rick.

      Now I see the crown on top of the clock is different / the lion & unicorn are different / the surrounding brick or stonework is different etc.

      Now I’m confused. Either it is two different buildings or they rebuilt / restored / replicated (inexactly) this portion of the building for some reason (?).

  5. The four-faced street clock of East 79th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] They’re typically found anchored to stately or elegant buildings—hotels, luxury stores, and insurance headquarters. […]

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