Philadelphia Watch Case Company Building - Riverside, NJ
N 40° 02.360 W 074° 57.560
18T E 503469 N 4432123
Quick Description: The iconic Philadelphia Watch Case Building, an NRHP site is known for two things: its immense 8-story clock tower and its frieze work, found in every nook and cranny of the building and so typical of our early 20th century New Jersey architecture.
Location: New Jersey, United States
Date Posted: 2/26/2012 7:32:37 PM
Waymark Code: WMDVG2
Once upon a time, Riverside once housed the world's largest watch case manufacturer, doing business around the globe from the Philadelphia Watch Case Company Building. This was during an era where every man carried a pocket watch; I remember my grandfather had one of those. The building’s clock tower has since become a Riverside landmark. All over the outside of the building are interesting examples of frieze art. I saw some weird scary faces, ornate designs and other symbols of prosperity typical of such architecture of the time. The clock tower face is loaded with frieze art as well.
One look at this dinosaur and it's pretty obvious it is a historical site. It is the most recognizable building on our side of the Delaware River. To look at it makes one think they have traveled back to 18th century London; it just has that kind of feel. I have been passing this giant building and clock tower for years but never bothered to investigate it until I started to Waymark with seriousness. The building is featured on the town's historical society page as well as the town's home page. The building is so expansive and tall, every other structure is simply dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of the tower as they were cooled by this beast's shadow this late afternoon.
A part of the building is still used today. The Riverside Historical Society's Museum and Archives are on the second floor of the building and offer a ticket to the past with its vast, one-of-a-kind collection of antiques, artifacts, photos, and information. HERE The office, archives, and museum are open by appointment only. If interested in the history of Riverside, please contact them to set-up an appointment. Their contact information can be found HERE.
The Philadelphia Watch Case Company Building is composed of a mixture of brick, reinforced concrete, and glazed terra cotta, and is constructed with reinforced concrete columns, girders, and thick slabs. The building has all kinds of frieze work and has something interesting in every nook and cranny. Unfortunately, the building is kind of beat up and crumbling here and there. I think one of the reason is the constant wind whipping in off of the Delaware. When I visited on February 25, 2012, the wind was blowing in at abut 35 mph. It was pretty awful and difficult to shoot photos. There is a local architectural firm who was hired to recommend preservation steps to insure the building doesn't completely end up in ruin. That information can be found HERE.
I found an excellent narrative: Completed in early 1908, the building is dominated by the 7-story office building, with an 8-story tower at the corner. The tower has an elaborately framed clock on each side and a lavishly decorated mansard roof. Spaces between the windows are ornamented with carved squares and grotesques. The main factory building, behind and attached to the office building, is an early example of reinforced concrete construction. Its divisions are clearly defined by concrete posts and beams, infilled with brick spandrels and triple factory windows.
The ornate clock tower is the perfect symbol atop the seven-story office tower of The Philadelphia Watch Case Comany. The factory, which produced gold watch cases, had 32 fire and burglar-proof vaults. Floors were sloped so gold particles could be flushed into a cistern and recovered.
The Philadelphia (Keystone) Watch Case Company was the world's largest watch case manufacturer, and in 1918 employed 1,050 people.
FInally, the narrative from the Riverside Historical Society
Samuel Bechtold died at the age of 48 on november 1869. His Pavilion Hotel was still sold out in 1870, but over the next decade, with the railroad constructed to Atlantic City and people discovering the excitement of the shore, the hotel lost it's luster and was vacant most of the time. Riverside was a community in trouble, and labeled a town with no direction, with an empty grand hotel in the middle of nowhere. In 1892 Theophilus Zurbrugg purchased the vacant Pavilion Hotel and moved his Philadelphia Watch Case Company into it. The company expanded rapidly and in 1908 Zurbrugg built a new building south of the old hotel. Although the Pavilion Hotel is gone, the 1908 addition, dominated by a 7-story office building with an 8-story clock tower on the corner, still stands today. Zurbrugg also opened the Riverside Metal Works Company, a metal producing factory intended to supply the special metal used in the making of the watch cases. It wasn't long before the new plant took on a life of its own and became a large employer of men. Zurbrugg built two sets of row homes and several stand-alone houses and made them available to his employees at "below market" rates. For the first time in decades there was a population and building boom in riverside. SOURCE