Early 20th century buildings, a firehouse and police precinct house, reflect civic development of Far Rockaway. On March 13, 2018, Landmarks voted to add two buildings in Far Rockaway, Queens, to its calendar. The buildings are the Firehouse, Engine Companies 264 & 328, Ladder Company 13 at 16-15 Central Avenue, and the 53rd Precinct Police Station, at 16-12 Mott Avenue. A seaside resort community through most of the 19th century, Far Rockaway was not linked to the rest of Queens until the construction of a railway bridge across Jamaica Bay in 1888, when the first year-round residences were constructed.
Landmarks’ Executive Director Sarah Carroll stated that the calendarings are being done in conjunction with the Economic Development Corporation-driven Downtown Far Rockaway project, which will include rezoning. Landmarks studied the area and determined that the early-20th-century civic structures were significant to the historical development of the area, and the expansion of the City’s fire and police departments.
The three-story Firehouse, known locally as the “Big House,” was completed in 1913 and designed by the firm of Hoppin & Koen in Renaissance Revival style. The firm created a standardized design for firehouses replicated in 18 locations. The design could be adapted for different spaces and needs with either one, two, or three bays. The Far Rockaway Firehouses possesses three vehicle bays, the largest iteration of the standardized design, of which three were built. The building is faced in rusticated limestone at the base, with arched vehicle bays, and red brick and cast stone at the upper levels. The building possesses brick pilasters and a dentilled cornice.
The Firehouse was built during a period of intense municipal construction following the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs, and addressed the needs of the growing residential community.
The Precinct Station was designed by the Police Department’s Superintendent of Buildings Thomas E. O’Brien and completed in 1928. Prior the station’s construction, the precinct occupied a wood-framed repurposed former dwelling. Trained as a carpenter, O’Brien joined the force as a patrolman, and rose to the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant. He took night classes in architecture at the Cooper Union while serving as an officer. Loosely modeled on a Renaissance palazzo, the building has granite base with stepped-arch opening, and the upper stories are faced in red brick. The building displays classical window surrounds on the second floor, projecting quins, and a modillioned terra-cotta cornice. Original bronze lamps flank the main entrance, below a carved tablet containing the City seal.
A one-story garage faced in granite and terra cotta adjoining the precinct house was built contemporaneously and proposed for inclusion in the landmark designation.
The building still serves as a precinct station, currently housing the 101st precinct of the NYPD.
According to Landmarks Research Department, the construction of the Precinct House was one of the markers of the area’s transition from a summer resort to year-round community and neighborhood of New York City, and the modernization of municipal services.
Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan found the early modularity of firehouse design “quite fascinating,” and said the buildings stand out as “grand civic gestures” in the context of Far Rockaway.
In response to a Commissioner question, agency counsel Mark Silberman said that, if designated, any work on the building would be governed by binding reports, unless the work was part of a Citywide initiative, in which case Landmarks’ oversight would be advisory.
Landmarks voted unanimously to add both items to the Commission’s calendar. The next step will be a public hearing on designation, for which no date has been set.
LPC: Firehouse, Engine Companies 264 & 328/Ladder Company 134, 16-15 Central Avenue, Queens (LP-2609); 53rd Precinct Police Station, 16-12 Mott Avenue, Queens (LP-2610) (March 13, 2018).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law.)