NYC’s Beautiful and Mysterious Fire Alarm Telegraph Stations

Spread across the five boroughs of New York City, the Fire Alarm Telegraph Stations stand in City parks as reminders of the City’s efforts decades ago to improve the efficiency of its fire fighting system. They are architecturally distinctive buildings set in bucolic park settings, with minimal signage to indicate their purpose.

During the 1910s and ’20s, the Fire Department of New York built Fire Alarm Telegraph Stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, to serve as central dispatching offices. Unlike firehouses and the Fire Headquarters, they were deliberately placed in isolated park sites, so as to minimize the risk that fires from neighboring buildings could endanger. It also provided space for freestanding radio towers.

Clockwise from upper left, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens Fire Alarm Telegraph Stations

Reflecting the City Beautiful Movement of that era, which emphasized that public buildings should not only be functional but also should enhance the visual character of their surroundings, New York’s Fire Alarm Telegraph Stations could easily be mistaken for being cultural or educational buildings.

But, the Fire Alarm Telegraph Stations were built to save lives first and be beautiful second. Plans for the first three facilities were approved in 1912, just a year after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire killed 146. McClure’s magazine declared in December 1911 that “the New York fire-alarm system is the worst in the United States.”

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