Fire Engine Company No. 53, Harlem, 1883

January 7, 2014

The NYTimes City Room talks about the Fire Engine Company No. 53 in East Harlem, a four-story Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival-style building that was one of 42 firehouses and related structures designed for the Fire Department by the prominent architectural firm of Napoleon LeBrun & Sons between 1879 and 1895.

“This engine company was among the initial group of handsome, yet highly functional buildings designed by LeBrun & Sons that set the standard for firehouse construction in New York City,” Mr. Tierney said. “The building’s marvelous details and design remain intact, and recall the days when horses, and later fire trucks, charged out of the main entrance to save people’s lives and properties.”

The firehouse, at 175 East 104th Street, was built in 1883 and 1884 and covered the area bounded by Fifth and First Avenues and 96th and 116th Streets. The fire company moved into the building in January 1885, and responded to about 154 fires in the district during its first year of operation.

The commission said in a statement:

The Fire Department commissioned LeBrun & Sons in 1880 to be the lead architect for a major campaign to construct dozens of distinctively designed firehouses as part of an effort by the F.D.N.Y. to establish a strong municipal presence in the City, which was in the early stages of a period of intensive growth. The firm introduced such design innovations such as indoor horse stalls on the ground floor and hose drying towers.

Fire Engine Company No. 53, a four-story brick building, is comprised of a cast-iron base with a wide entrance, and features decorative motifs such as torches, terra cotta sunflowers and sunbursts, and a pair of small pediments that are supported by corbelled brick brackets. The façade is virtually identical to those of Engine Co. 15 at 269 Henry Street and Engine Co. 54, at 304 West 47th Street, both in Manhattan.

Napoleon LeBrun, the son of French immigrants, established his architecture practice in Philadelphia in 1841, and relocated it to New York City in 1864. The firm is responsible for a number of churches in Manhattan, as well as several office buildings, including Metropolitan Life’s headquarters at 1 Madison Avenue and the Home Life Insurance Company Building, both of which are New York City landmarks.

Engine Company 53 was used as a fire station until 1974, and is now owned by Manhattan Community Access Corporation, a local cable television station.

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