The restored Romanesque splendor of Brooklyn’s Hearth Division Headquarters
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.
A great city has great bourgeois buildings, and Brooklyn, in the late 19th century, was well on its way to making a name for itself with a collection of them. The fire department headquarters at 365 Jay Street, along with good schools, courthouses, places of worship, and clubs, was a monument to the power and pride of a great city.
The Fire Headquarters was designed by the great Brooklyn architect Frank Freeman, who was responsible for many of the county’s most important buildings from the late 19th century. The beautiful Behr mansion on Pierrepont and Henry Street is his design, as is the huge Eagle Warehouse in Dumbo. He also designed banks and other commercial and urban buildings in Downtown and Brooklyn Heights, but unfortunately most of them did not survive.
Firefighting in Brooklyn had become a professional affair, and a large headquarters was needed to bring the various offices and departments together and provide that part of downtown with a fire station. But what a headquarters! The Romanesque architectural style was considered the highest form of architecture at the time, especially for civil buildings, and so it is no wonder that some of the best civil buildings were built in this style.
The accumulation of shapes with bay windows, turrets, dormers, different roof lines, the voluminous arches, the use of florid terracotta ornaments and the contrasting use of textures in building materials – all these elements of the style are here.
The building was officially opened in 1892. The sight of fire engines and men racing out of this magnificent archway was inspiring for everyone. Little did they know that just six years later there would be no fire department in Brooklyn.
In 1898, the consolidation of New York City made the BFD obsolete and it was incorporated into the FDNY. All Brooklyn fire stations were renumbered, and this headquarters was no longer needed. However, it remained an active fire station, making it one of the largest and most beautiful in the city.
In 1929 the fire station was to house the newly created Rescue 2 unit. These are the firefighters who are called in to rescue the rescuers. The rescue units remain the elite units of the fire brigade and take on the most dangerous tasks.
They stayed here until 1946 before moving to Carlton Street and in 1985 Bergen Street in Crown Heights, where they are now. In the 1930s Rescue 2 shared the house with Searchlight 2, another special unit for emergency rescues.
The searchlight vehicle was a Packard equipped with powerful searchlights. It was not until much later that the fire engines themselves were equipped with powerful searchlights.
365 Jay Street remained an active fire station until the 1970s. It had been named an individual landmark in 1966 by the newly established Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The agency was only a year old at the time, which suggests how important this building is to Brooklyn’s architectural and cultural history. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. After the city closed the fire station, it was leased to the Brooklyn Polytechnic as a classroom for a while, but eventually sealed and remained empty for years.
In 1987 the city agreed to convert the building into affordable housing. Bruce Ratner built MetroTech, and the construction of that project had displaced many of the low-income people living in his footprint.
Eighteen residential units were created in the building, but funds to maintain the building were scarce. At the turn of the century, this over 100 year old building was experiencing serious roof problems and other problems.
The Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) was selected as the developer by the City of New York, which owns the building. They planned a massive renovation of the building and apartments, and planned to get the roof, windows and other exterior elements back in order according to LPC standards. But the necessary financing in the form of building loans came only in 2013.
Funding came from the City of New York (HPD), Community Preservation Corp (CPC) and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). The project also received funding from Historic Preservation Tax Credits and a grant from the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Nomad Architecture was a project architect with Thomas A. Fenniman, Architect, as Historic Preservation Consultant. MDG Design & Construction was a development partner and contractor.
The work was finished and in May 2015 the official band average took place. Some tenants from the 1980s were able to return to the building. This proud Brooklyn landmark is postcard-worthy once again.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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