Monday, May 19, 2008

Engine 24

I walk by this former fire station every weekend on the way to my sons' baseball games. It's pretty obvious that the building once housed a New York fire company because there are similar buildings scattered around Manhattan. Most have been converted to shops and residences and thus saved from destruction. Even today, the city government is closing or relocating older stations in an effort to save money and respond to the shifting demographics of neighborhoods in flux.

From 1865 until 1975, 78 Morton Street (just west of Hudson St.) was home to Engine Co. 24. (Now they're over on 6th Ave. with Ladder Co. 5.) Unfortunately the "Engine 24" relief, visible in the old photos, has been taken down. Also, one of the arched doorways flanking the main entrance has been covered, destroying the building's symmetry. Nevertheless, I guess it's better than demolition.

In recent years threatened station closings have sparked protests by residents who fear a station's removal will increase emergency response times and diminish the safety of their neighborhood. There's also the fear that a station's closure will negatively affect the character and fortunes of a area. Although such fears represent intangible variables for budget planners and FDNY officials, for city residents the local station often represents the heart of a neighborhood and citizens feel a personal attachment to the station and its fire fighters in the same way a small town might regard its volunteer fire department and ambulance company. In the West Village I see this kind of affection for the members of Engine Co. 18 on 10th Street, a feeling only enhanced by the station's losses on 9/11.

We chat with the guys on summer evenings when the station door is open and they're enjoying some down time out front. They wave to our kids and sometimes park the engine next to the playground so kids can climb aboard or try on a helmet. There's a connection that transcends the mere dynamics of fighting fires and responding to emergencies. And I have no doubt that a threatened closing of this station would stir to action the members of an already politically active neighborhood.

Surveying the old Engine Co. 24, I wonder how residents greeted its relocation in 1975. I'm just guessing, but I have a feeling that 30 years ago, in that period before historic preservation was such a popular cause (and before this portion of the West Village enjoyed something of a revival), there was little notice. It's nice that the station survived, albeit in its altered state.

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