|photo by Robert K. Chin - nycinatown.org|
|photo by Alice Lum|
Eight months after construction began the building was completed in March 1899. Like the LeBruns, Robertson produced a sumptuously decorated structure. The three-story fire house is a mix of Romanesque Revival and Beaux Arts styles – both at the height of their popularity at the time. The rusticated limestone first floor is dominated by a central arched doorway, over which a carved-stone ribbon in relief identifies the house: 55 ENGINE 55. On either side, decorative oval windows are framed in heavily-carved stone wreaths. Two large arched windows on the second floor are joined by a connected smaller arch in which a bronze plaque was inset, inscribed with the architect, the fire commissioner, and the chief of department. A terra cotta phoenix roosts above the plaque.
|Robertson's design details included a decorative carved stone ribbon and exquisite carved oak leaf and ribbon motif wreaths around the oval windows. The scrolled wrought iron grill in the entrance arch is original. Photo by Alice Lum|
The windows of the third floor mimic the three arches below, separated by brick Corinthian pilasters. Two lion’s heads stare down to the street from below the cornice. Robertson’s intended mansard roof did not survive the pre-construction revisions.
Prior to World War I the neighborhood had not improved significantly. Around 8:00 pm on December 4, 1909 a hungry fireman, Albert Robinson, called upon a “buff,” gave him a quarter and sent him to a nearby restaurant for a can of coffee and some food. Buffs were hangers-on at the fire stations; young boys who admired the fire fighters as heroes and did errands and favors for them.
The boy had barely left the Engine Company door when Robinson heard his cries and ran out to find several “Italians who were beating him and trying to take the quarter away from him.” When the fireman joined in the fray, followed by other firemen, he was stabbed in the back with a 7-inch stiletto.
Robinson was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital; Vincenzo Curso, the man with the knife, was arrested for felonious assault; and Acting Battalion Chief Jennings rushed to the station to investigate. While the Chief was inside with the firemen and police, his driver Thomas Roe, waited outside in the buggy. Hearing a commotion, the group ran out to find Roe surrounded by “several Italians” who were beating the driver.
|photo by Alice Lum|
Fire Engine Company 55 still calls the 1899 station house home. The neighborhood, once so heavily Italian, is now part of Chinatown. Bright red paint covers part of the limestone ground floor and the original entrance door has been replaced; however R.H. Robertson’s ornate fire house – the only one he designed for the New York City Fire Department – retains its 19th century architectural integrity.