Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters

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Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters
Brooklyn Fire Headquarters - Underhill 1910.jpg
Brooklyn Fire Headquarters, c.1910
Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters is located in New York City
Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters
General information
Type Originally a fire station, now residential apartments
Architectural style Richardsonian Romanesque
Address 365-367 Jay Street
Brooklyn, New York City
Design and construction
Architect Frank Freeman
Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters
Coordinates 40°41′34″N 73°59′13″W / 40.69278°N 73.98694°W / 40.69278; -73.98694Coordinates: 40°41′34″N 73°59′13″W / 40.69278°N 73.98694°W / 40.69278; -73.98694
Built 1892
NRHP Reference # 72000854[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP January 20, 1972
Designated NYCL April 19, 1966[2]

The Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters is a historic building located at 365-67 Jay Street near Willoughby Street in Downtown Brooklyn, New York City. Designed by Frank Freeman in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style and built in 1892, it was used as a fire station until the 1970s, after which it was converted into residential apartments. The building, described as "one of New York's best and most striking architectural compositions", was made a New York City landmark in 1966, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.


Around 1890, the Brooklyn Fire Department began planning for the construction of a new fire headquarters with a tall lookout tower. A plot of land was eventually purchased for the purpose on Jay Street, adjacent to the quarters of Engine Company 17, for $15,000. At this point, a dispute arose as to the choice of architect. Fire Commissioner John Ennis favored a protégé of local Democratic Party leader Hugh "Boss" McLaughlin, but the city works commissioner, John P. Adams, preferred another firm. Eventually, a compromise candidate was selected—Frank Freeman, a leading exponent of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, who had recently completed the Thomas Jefferson Association Building for the Kings County Democrats.[3]

The new building was completed in 1892, although the fire department did not occupy the building until March 1894. Though originally intended as the department's headquarters, it served in this role for only six years, when the City of Brooklyn was incorporated as a borough into the City of New York, after which the building became "simply, the most splendid neighborhood firehouse in Greater New York."[4]

The building was retained as a firehouse by the New York City Fire Department until the 1970s, serving as the home of various units including Ladder 110 and 118, Engine 207, and from 1947 to 1971, Battalion 31. In the 1930s, it also served as the HQ of Searchlight 2, a unit which utilized a Packard sedan modified to carry searchlights, in an era before fire engines were fitted with their own searchlights.[5] In 1966, the building was designated as a New York City landmark,[6] and in 1972, it was listed as an historic building on the National Register of Historic Places.[7]

The building in 2012

After the Fire Department vacated the premises, it was leased for a time by Polytechnic University. In 1987, the Board of Estimates proposed a conversion of the then-vacant building into 18 apartments for low-income and elderly people, a plan that was met with considerable resistance in some quarters.[8] However, the conversion subsequently went ahead, partly on the grounds that continued use would prevent the building from falling into decay. Regardless, the building as of 2009 was said to have developed a "musty, neglected air"[3] and to be in need of maintenance, with parts of its roofing having disintegrated.[9]


The Brooklyn Fire Headquarters has received high praise from critics. The Landmark Preservation Commission's designation report described it as "one of New York's best and most striking architectural compositions" and "one of the finest buildings in Brooklyn."[6] Architecture critic Francis Morrone has characterized it as "simply, the most splendid neighborhood firehouse in Greater New York."[4] The "exuberant and lusty"[10] design is widely considered to be a masterpiece of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.[3][9]

The firehouse consists of a five-story building and an adjacent seven-story watchtower. These two elements are separated by a slender, semicircular turret with a conical roof which rises the full height of the building, while two similar turrets on each wing lend the facade a strong sense of unity. On the ground floor, serving as the main entrance, is "one of the boldest and most mellifluously carved arches" in Brooklyn, through which the fire engines once drove. A second, receding arch is located on the opposite side of the building, high in the tower.[4] Decorative studs above the tower arch and cylindrical holes around the tops of the turrets enhance the overall sense of boldness. The building is constructed of orange brick with terra cotta detailing, held up by granite with red sandstone trim,[11] while the pyramidal roof is tiled in red and trimmed with copper. The overall color scheme has been characterized as "both subtle and ingenious."[6] Overall, the building is an example of the New York Branch of the Chicago architectural school.[11]

In its original layout, the fifth floor was given over entirely to the telegraph alarm system, "with its miles of copper wire stretching out over Brooklyn."[3]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters Designation Report" New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (April 19. 1966)
  3. ^ a b c d Gray, Christopher: "Civic Ambition, and Politics, on Jay Street", The New York Times, 2006-04-16.
  4. ^ a b c Morrone and Iska, pp. 22-23.
  5. ^ Schneiderman, pp. 31-32.
  6. ^ a b c "Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters", Landmarks Preservation Commission report, Neighborhood Preservation Center website.
  7. ^ "Old Brooklyn Fire Headquarters", nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com.
  8. ^ "Plan to Alter Firehouse Is Debated in Brooklyn", The New York Times (September 6, 1987)
  9. ^ a b "Walkabout: Favorite Brooklyn Buildings - Reader's Choices"The Brownstoner (December 10, 2009)
  10. ^ Lopate, Phillip: "New York, Brick by Brick", The New York Times, 2000-06-18.
  11. ^ a b White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot; Leadon, Fran (2010), AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195383867 , p.586


  • Morrone, Francis; Iska, James (2001): An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, Gibbs Smith, ISBN 978-1-58685-047-0.
  • Schneiderman, Joseph (2002): The Firefighting Buff's Guide To New York City: The Five Borough, Five Alarm Reference To The Second Homes of New York's Bravest, IUniverse, pp. 31–32, ISBN 978-0-595-24602-1.

External links[edit]