The West New York firehouse on Polk Street had a long history of use by the community but is now vacant and suffering from deterioration, particularly on the interior where years of patching a leaking roof have resulted in collapsed ceilings, warped floorboards, and an infestation of mold and mildew that rule out any current use of the building. Currently, the building has no heat or electricity, which is threatening the structure, finishes, and historic contents of the building. The municipality, about to celebrate its 120th anniversary, is a proud working class community that has the potential to rally around the preservation and future use of this landmark.
The firehouse, constructed in 1897 and designed by architect Robert C. Dixon, was active as Excelsiour Engine Company #3 until 1915 when a paid fire department was established in West New York. The old firehouse then became the headquarters of the Association of Exempt Firemen of West New York. A key activity of the social club was the formation of the Exempt Firemen’s Band, which practiced in the old firehouse and performed regionally at celebrations and rallies. The structure’s basement was used for a community center and its upper floors held the contents of an informal fire museum: an 1860 pumper, fire equipment, uniforms, trophies, pictures and medals, fire records, antique helmets, and musical instruments, including a collection of antique trumpets from the fire company band.
The New Jersey Historic Preservation Office has certified the building as individually eligible for the New Jersey Register of Historic Places as a well-preserved example of a Romanesque Revival fire house. Its symmetrical main elevation features a wide central arch to the truck bay, with “NO 2” carved in the keystone. Two flanking pedestrian entrances have matching arches. The second floor, supported by a decorative corbelled brick belt also features round-arched window openings, double columns, and brick work that is capped by a tower with a pyramid roof. While the windows are modern replacements and the cupola on the central tower is no longer extent, the fenestration and strong brick pattern work retain high integrity.
Few members of the Firemen’s Association remain to utilize and maintain the building. Preservation New Jersey encourages the town of West New York to embrace this historic landmark in its residential neighborhood and develop a community use that would benefit a broad number of residents. Matching grant funds are available to help West New York plan for the adaptive use of the firehouse and to carry out a repair and rehabilitation program that would allow the community to embrace this architectural gem for a new generation.
Patrick R. Cullen, Jr.
Town Historian, West New York Free Public Library