Volume 77, Number 3 - January 2 - 8, 2008
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Photo by Zack Winestine

A photo of the Pier 53 fireboat stationhouse from the cover of the 2002 book “Maritime Mile.”

Waterfront activists try to keep a firehouse afloat

By Josh Rogers

At Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee meeting on Dec. 17, Fire Department officials outlined plans to demolish the firehouse on a finger pier at Gansevoort Peninsula in favor of a modern facility for Marine Company 1.

A photograph of the building by Zack Winestine made the cover of the book “Maritime Mile: The Story of the Greenwich Village Waterfront,” a collaboration by Winestine and Stuart Waldman about the Greenwich Village waterfront, published in 2002.

At the meeting, the co-authors, other residents and C.B. 2 members all raised objections to losing the historic structure.

“It symbolized the waterfront history in a way that no other building did,” Winestine said, explaining why they selected the photo for the book’s cover.

Battalion Chief James Dalton, who runs the department’s Marine Division, said the new facility would be 55 feet tall compared to the current 38 feet. He said the F.D.N.Y. is planning for all of its anticipated needs over the next 50 years.

Dalton said he insisted on raising the building’s height to put the mechanicals high so that the rescue unit would be able to operate in flooding conditions. The pier will have about seven or eight parking spots for personal vehicles. Even if the personal parking were taken off the pier, Dalton said, they would not be able to spread the uses over a larger area and reduce the building’s height because the mechanicals need to be high. He said sometimes firefighters get assigned to other parts of the city and they need their cars to drive all of their heavy equipment to the new spot.

No one at the meeting challenged the Fire Department’s need for a modern facility, but residents said the existing building should either be preserved at Pier 53, the peninsula’s northern finger pier, or moved to another part of the waterfront.

“Anything can be done with the right amount of money,” said Joe Mastro, the department’s assistant commissioner of facilities.

Noreen Doyle, the Hudson River Park Trust’s vice president, made it clear the Trust has no money available to preserve the building.

The Fire Department hopes to begin demolition in April 2008 and move the fireboat John D. McKean and its crew of firefighters to temporary facilities on a small part of Pier 40 at W. Houston St. for 22 months. Doyle told residents the Trust was not open to a permanent marine unit on Pier 40 since the Hudson River Park Act forbids municipal uses there, plus the fact that the Trust is currently considering two development submissions to its Pier 40 request for proposals.

“It’s not an option the Trust would consider with two active R.F.P.s and the existing legislation,” Doyle said. She made the comment a day before the Pier 40 Partnership’s report outlining a new approach at Pier 40 — calling for a nonprofit conservancy and minimal change of the pier — was made public.

Demolition of the existing fireboat stationhouse and the unit’s moving to Pier 40 will cost about $5 million, while the new building at Gansevoort is expected to cost $11 million.

Cristabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City said she was “totally grossed out” by the idea of destroying the existing fireboat stationhouse building. “We aren’t going to blame the Fire Department; we’re going to blame the Hudson River Park Trust,” she said.

At its full board meeting last month, C.B. 2 passed a resolution in support of building the modern facility on Pier 53 but also preserving the existing firehouse. C.B. 2 suggested that the old firehouse could be moved to another location on the waterfront to “serve as an echo of the past for years to come.” The board also recommended that the Trust consider adaptive reuse of the old firehouse by turning it into “a maritime or firefighting museum or educational facility.”

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