The sun is slowly setting on a generation of old city firehouses.
Phased out by a new breed of larger, better-equipped firehouses, many of the pre-1930 houses—mainstays of the Chicago Fire Department for close to a century—await new duties. The buildings compose one of the more beautiful classes of municipal architecture; beautifully-designed structures that complemented the neighborhoods in which they were built. Constructed during the height of “City Beautiful,” the stations—along with city-built schools and libraries—became the envoys that brought the movement into the neighborhoods.
The firehouse in the accompanying photographs is the old CFD Engine Co. 84, Truck 51, at 62nd and Green. Built in 1929, the fire station seemingly sits on an island as its original surrounding streets were demolished in the 1960s to create parking and access roads for the Englewood Concourse mall. But its remoteness adds to its visual strength as the well-crafted brick building with Flemish architectural touches seems to erupt out of nowhere.
Look at the terra cotta detailing around the door and outlining the towers:
And here, a fireman’s hat, ladder and crossed bugles set in a terra cotta relief:
The building has scores of details. In the photo below of an entrance on the north side of the building, look at the flutes and scrolls on the columns…
…and a look at the top of the entrance will reveal delicate ironwork of roses seated in a vase:
The city has had the good sense to preserve the best of the old firehouses by giving this one and a dozen others protected city landmark status in 2003. (The list is here. Scroll down to number 71 to see the addresses for the landmarked fire houses) And some fire stations have indeed been reused. The Fire Museum of Greater Chicago opened earlier this year in a disused, 96-year-old fire house at 5218 S. Western. The house, which wasn’t among those landmarked by the city, had been unused since the 1970s. And everybody knows what happened to the former home of Engine Co. 104, which was one of the 13 firehouses landmarked in 2003.
And what of the old firehouse in Englewood? Although the city is looking to put retail development on the acres surrounding the station, Deputy Zoning Commissioner Brian Goeken, who oversees landmarks, said the city is committed to preserve the fire station.
What might the future hold for these buildings? Maybe a few could be turned into restaurants. Probably far more will become spaces for community activities. I wish the city would consider selling at least one to a private owners who’d be willing to convert the place into a home and live there. The joy alone of sliding down the firepole each day would be worth the cost.