Tuesday, August 9, 2016

St. Louis Firehouses

So in a previous blog, I described my intentions to visit and photograph each of St. Louis' active fire houses. There are a total of 30 currently in operation across the city. There are also 11 or so former firehouses that are still standing. I originally thought I'd blog about those first, but when I visited them, I became fascinated with how some of the older houses became obsolete due to their inner-neighborhood locations and how modern technology with the large fire trucks could no longer get in and out of these older city streets. I need to shoot some short videos that show the 360 degree vistas around some of the old firehouses to make the point that design and location selections for these fire houses was apt for the current times when a horse-drawn steamer was cutting edge and how a motorized fleet made the design and location obsolete.

So, I've chosen to cover the 30 active firehouses first simply because I need more time to record and edit those short videos.

So anyway, just like nearly everything built in St. Louis during its boom times, the firehouses are beautifully designed and fit in very well with the neighborhoods. They were designed to be appealing and contemporary in both form and function...adopting the technologies and styles of the times. The current firehouses range from the 1890's to the 1970's. Nothing has been built since. Construction of the firehouses stopped in 1974 when Mayor John Poelker commissioned Firehouse #1 on 2910 South Jefferson Avenue in the Benton Park Neighborhood.

In many ways the St. Louis firehouses are a reflection of the good times when lots of people lived here and the city was dense. In 1974 the population of St. Louis was 530,770. Now we are dipping below 315,000 and there are fewer buildings to protect.

If you want to see how contemporary firehouses were built from 1980-current times, you'll have to go to the suburbs around St. Louis.  Here are a couple examples from two small towns in the suburbs to serve as a point of reference. Richmond Heights, Missouri (population 8,508), which abuts St. Louis to the immediate west:
And the larger city of Creve Coeur, Missouri (population 17,865) which is ~six miles west of St. Louis:
The older firehouses of St. Louis stand as a stark contrast when you compare to the newer ones in St. Louis County.

We have a lot to be proud of here in St. Louis and the rich history of the STLFD is just one. And not just the stone, bricks and mortar that make up the firehouses, the department has made impressive advancements throughout the years. The evolution from a volunteer fire departments to a fully modernized publicly-funded fleet stated in 1857 and has continued to evolved with the times.
The history of the St. Louis Fire Department is long and storied. My intention is not to dig too deep into the history, as that is well documented by photo and print in many other places including the following three books which are available through our libraries:


This is available at five different branches of the St. Louis Public Library and has great photos of some of the firehouses lost in cyclones, etc. It also has plenty of shots of the fire-fighting technology and the older houses throughout the years.
Upper left corner: Arsenal and Sublette Upper right corner: alarm boxes that were on nearly all                                                                   street corners before 911

There is an excruciatingly detailed document of the department circa 1914 which has some good photos of the older houses. It is available in the Central Stacks of the SLPL:

No: 49 in Tower Grove East

And finally, St. Louis Fire Department: The First 150 Years of Service (1857-2007). This one is a little hard to find, but can be referenced at the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center at 225 South Skinker Boulevard.
No 49 with a horse-drawn steamer

This book has wonderful photos of St. Louis throughout the years, and many photos of the firehouses when they opened.

The city website has a nice timeline of events including some highlights below:

1836 - hand pump engines were in place
1855 - first steam engines in use
1857 - City Council passed an ordinance to establish the paid municipal FD
1892 - first aerial hook and ladder
1904 - steamers and chemical wagons were is full use (some were made in STL)
1918 - fuel wagons were in use
1920 - We topped out at 12,000 fire hydrants in St. Louis
1921 - first African-American firefighter
1950s - six new stations were built between 1953-1957.
1974 - last firehouse built
1987 - first female firefighter
1999 - first African-American chief

So I scooted around the city north to south and east to west for several days waiting for the sun and weather to cooperate with the lenses and I'll share photos and a few words on each.

A couple general observations first:  All 30 firehouses took part in the Milkweed for Monarchs project from the City of St. Louis, so you will find small milkweed gardens at every single one.  Secondly, every single firehouse, without exception, has at least one grill. Many firehouses have basketball hoops or small vegetable gardens...healthy pastimes.

Also, at times when the firemen were present at the firehouses, I would introduce myself upon arrival so they didn't think I'm a weirdo stalking the joint. Without exception, these guys were great to talk to: kind ambassadors of our great city. At some stations, the firehouse is literally an oasis, a safe house in some crumbling environs (see #13 in Hamilton Heights). They are clean, well maintained pillars of activity and the doors are always open and welcoming.

And finally, firemen and police give THE BEST directions.

So thanks to all the kind men and women I talked to and showed me around and answered my questions. Keep up the good work.

So let's take a look at each firehouse in order of their numerical designation, starting with the "newest" firehouse in St. Louis: #1 built in 1974:
The 1970s facade is due for some maintenance which is rare, most of them are in great shape, maybe with the exception of #29 on Vandeventer Avenue where the metal edging around the signage is missing. There is a small bench dedicated in honor of two firemen who died in action in 2002. The original #1 is no longer in use, but can be found at 2411 McNair Avenue.

#2 occupies part of the massive municipal garage at 314 South Tucker Boulevard in the Downtown Neighborhood. This used to be referred to as #14 and #24.
#4 at 4425 South Compton in the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood. Someone spelled out "Good Job, Save Lives, Good Work" with their finger on one of the entryways. #3 is along South Broadway and is no longer in service.
#5 at 2123 North Market in the St. Louis Place Neighborhood, one of the 1950s classics. This one sits at the southwest corner of St. Louis Place Park.
#6 (formerly #42) is at 5747 Manchester Avenue in the Cheltenham Neighborhood.
#7 is at 2600 LaSalle, but most people recognize this as a Jefferson firehouse in the Gate District. The 1970 classic is known for its folded plate roof. This is one of my favs.
#8 is in a great setting at 1501 Salisbury Street at the south east corner of Hyde Park in the Hyde Park Neighborhood.
#9 at 814 LaBeaume is another 1950s firehouse (1956), this one is in a precarious spot in the Near North Riverfront Neighborhood. People have long been pushed out of this neighborhood, nearly everything around it has been lost to the trucking industry. People don't live around here. It's proximity to Broadway makes it relevant.
#10 (nee #46) is at 4161 Kennerly in the Ville Neighborhood is a 1935 classic, the firetruck proudly says "Still In The Ville" on the front bumper:
#11 is at 2224 South 7th Street in the Kosciusko Neighborhood.  This one, just like #20 kind of misses on the design end; but that's simply subjective, it is totally 1963. There are the era-heavy small ceramic tiles toward the back around the windows.
#12 at 5214 West Florissant in the Mark Twain Neighborhood is a 1935 stately classic across from Bellefontaine Cemetery.
#13 (nee #48) is at 1400 Shawmut Place in the Hamilton Heights Neighborhood. There is a lot of abandonment surrounding this one; but man, if there is investment and care, as the firehouse proves, the place could be impressive. Check this one out:
#14 (nee #49) is at 3523 Magnolia in the Tower Grove East Neighborhood. The space just to the right of this one has been heavily landscaped and looks great. It feels tucked into the neighborhood if you look east from the front.
We skip over #'s 15 and 16 for #17 at 3238 Martin Luther King Boulevard in the Covenant Blu/Grand Center Neighborhood. Not sure why there's not 15 and 16, I will update the post if the mystery is solved. This one is #3 on my list of favorites.
#19 (no #18) is at 6624 Morgan Ford Road in the Boulevard Heights Neighborhood. This one was built in 1955.
#20 is the other 1960's era number at 5600 Prescott in the North Riverfront Neighborhood. It is very similar to #11; it's in a non-residential area in the wake of I-70. There is a most impressive vegetable garden just east of this firehouse.
#22 (#21 is on Vandeventer, but is now #29) is at 1229 McCausland right at the exit ramp off of I-64 in the Hi-Pointe Neighborhood. While built it 1958, it has an art deco feel, maybe it's the font.
#23 is at 6500 Michigan in the Carondelet Neighborhood. It was built in 1920.
#24 is at 5245 Natural Bridge Road in the Mark Twain/I-70 Industrial Neighborhood, right across from the former Schweig-Engel on Union Boulvard for all you TV heads.
^Ever wonder what those tall, narrow towers are on most of the older firehouses? Those housed pulley systems to hang and dry the hoses before technology allowed them to be folded upon themselves after use without dry rotting.
#26 (nee #54) is at 4520 Margaretta in the Penrose Neighborhood. I need to find out what happened to #25.
#27 (nee #55) is at 5435 Partridge in the Walnut Park East Neighborhood. This 1922 classic is my 2nd favorite.
#28 (nee #43) at 4810 Enright in the Fountain Park Neighborhood was est. in 1932. Yes, it still has the slate tile roof.
#29 (nee #21) is at 200 South Vandeventer, right across from IKEA in the Midtown Neighborhood. Like #1 on Jefferson Avenue, this one was need some facade repair. It has a cool pyramid planter...
#30 is at 541 DeBaliviere in the Skinker/DeBaliviere Neighbohood. It'll be visible from the new trolley line that will run from the University City loop into St. Louis along Delmar and heading south along DeBaliviere to the history museum in Forest Park.
#31 is at 4408 Donovan in the St. Louis Hills Neighborhood, right next to the Tom-Boy. It's another 1950s era classic, this one built in 1952.
#32 (nee #38) is at 3500 Grand just north of Gravois in the Tower Grove East Neighborhood.
#33 (nee #37) is at 8300 North Broadway is in the Baden Neighborhood.
Nobody's home

#34 built in 1895 is at 8227 South Broadway near the southernmost edge of St. Louis in the Patch Neighborhood.
#35 at 5450 Arsenal in the Southwest Garden Neighborhood was built in 1895 and renovated in 1960.
#36 at 5000 South Kingshighway in the Princeton Heights Neighborhood is a 1925 beauty and finally...my personal favorite. Man I like the 1920's and this one was built in 1925.
I hope you had fun checking out all the active St. Louis firehouses and will continue to check in for the 11 or so retired firehouses that have found new lives or that are awaiting a new owner or investment.

3 comments:

Ryley said...

#36 is my favorite as well. Great post. Can't wait for the last 11.

Unknown said...

Does anyone know of an old firehouse at 1282 S. 18th St. Near Lafayette Square? I am trying to find the correct address and owner if possible. It is near an old bakery. Please contact me at kphipps62@gmail.com with any information! Thanks!

Mark Groth said...

Here you go: http://www.stlouiscitytalk.com/2016/08/former-firehouses-reused-renovated.html

I'll email the link to you as well. If you need more detail, I have a name to give you who is the expert on STL firehouses.

Let me know.

Mark