Preserve city's historic firehouse

Sunday June 30, 2013

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

I enjoyed seeing the Morningside Firehouse in the "Looking Back" of Sunday, June 23. It is a fine old building that represents the work of one of Pittsfield’s fine architects, Joseph McArthur Vance. Pittsfield has lost a number of Vance buildings through the years, most memorably the Palace Theatre in 1993. The recent demolition of the brick warming hut at the Common, a Vance design from 1941, is another loss.

The Morningside Firehouse deserves to be saved as a time capsule of the city’s development. The firehouse was a significant expansion of the city’s fire department. Morningside was an increasingly important section at that time. The Stanley Works (soon to be General Electric) was expanding rapidly. There was much call for a closer firehouse to protect the area. The project did not run smoothly, and it took about a year and a half to complete.

Things began well. On May 5, 1905, a special committee of the City Council had agreed upon the site of the new building. A week later it outlined its plans to local architects and asked them to prepare plans and specifications. Within two weeks, several important local architects had submitted plans: George E. Haynes, H. Neil Wilson, Joseph McArthur Vance, and Harding & Seaver.

On May 27 the committee accepted the sketches and rough plans drawn by Vance. The finished plans and specifications, approved by the building inspector in late July, called for heavy mill construction and an asphalt floor on the first story. A separate building for horses connecting with the firehouse was to be erected at the rear. The second floor front featured living apartments for the assistant engineer and his family, in addition to a bunkroom for firemen assigned to the station.

Contracts were awarded in mid-September; the cost of the building, originally pegged at $10,000, was estimated at $16,000. Completion was forecast for the beginning of January 2006, but was delayed several months by cold weather in late autumn, problems in obtaining structural iron and other material and a carpenters strike.

Though Morningside station remained an active firehouse until 1970, it is interesting to note that within 10 years of its construction there were plans to convert the building to another use. By then the automobile had definitely replaced the horse as the primary means of transport. In 1917 the city solicitor drew up an ordinance creating the office of a "city mechanician" to keep fire, police and public works vehicles in good repair.

Morningside Station was to be the city’s new municipal garage. Since 1970 the firehouse has undergone several incarnations under city auspices. Let us hope that the private sector will do well by this fine old example of the city’s past.




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