Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Engine House Number 10 - Today's Westcott Community Center

Syracuse, NY.  Engine House Number 10, Westcott Street and Euclid Ave., present appearance.  1902-03. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

Syracuse, NY.  Engine House Number 10, Westcott Street and Euclid Ave., 1902-03.  Historic Photo.

Engine House Number 10 - Today's Westcott Community Center
First public neighborhood event took place there in December 1903!
by Samuel D. Gruber

At the heart of the Westcott neighborhood is the Westcott Community Center, opened at the corner of Westcott Street and Euclid Avenue in 1903 as Engine House Number 10.  The building served as a firehouse until the 1970s when a new station was built on East Genesee Street at Cambridge. 

There was some political wrangling when the Engine House was built.  It was the first public building erected in the rapidly expanding east side of the city, and the mayor refused to announce its location and approve its construction until Euclid Avenue was fully paved between the University and Westcott Street.  The area was on the verge of rapid development.  The new Engine House stood on the edge of the recently developed Westminster Tract and across the street from the soon to be opened (1904) Westcott Heights development. 

The brick building is typical of local Engine House architecture. That is, it is distinctive and immediately recognizable as a building type. Its Flemish-inspired style, however, is unique.   The connection to Flemish architecture was more obvious before the steeped gables were simplified (see the original stepped decoration in the the old photo). 

 Amsterdam. Holland. House with stepped gable. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2006).

The tall chimney-like tower was used to dry fire hoses – it is both a functional and iconic element. The tower serves as a public secular beacon to complement the towers of some already built Queen Anne Style houses nearby, such as the Loomis house on the corner of Westcott and Lancaster, and also of the church towers so familiar throughout the city.  soon the new Erwin Methodist Church, with it impressive tower (not the one seen today) would be erected across Westcott Street from the Engine house. 

Syracuse, NY.  Engine House Number 10, Westcott Street and Euclid Ave., present appearance.  Note tower and stairway windows.   1902-03. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

Syracuse, NY. The Loomis House (623 Euclid Ave.) at Euclid and Lancaster Ave.was one of the existing nearby houses when Engine House 10 opened in 1903. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

The building may have been designed by local architect Gordon Wright who designed many houses in the area and public buildings throughout the city.  Wright was born in Massena, NY. and graduated from the Department of Architecture, Syracuse University.  In 1892 he set up his architectural office in Syracuse and (according to his obituary) he served as head of the S.U. Architectural Department from 1891-92 and taught at the school from 1893-94. From 1931 to 1938, Charles R. Ellis was his partner. His daughter Marjorie, who also studied architecture at Syracuse University, was associated with the firm from 1919 until her death in 1949. 

An article in The Evening Herald (Dec. 15, 1903) described the opening of the Engine house with a ball attended by 200 people, the first social event held in what in recent years has been the Westcott Community Center. 
The residents of the upper end of the Seventeenth ward made merry last night at their new fire engine house No. 10 at Westcott street and Euclid avenue, which, despite shortage of men in the department, will be put in service to-morrow with a new steamer and hose wagon for the protection of the heights in the south-eastern part of the city. Westminster lodge No. 788, I.O.O.F. Had charge of the celebration and gave a ball on the spacious apparatus room floor , which was attended by some two hundred people.”
The story went on to report on the fire company:
Chief John F. Quigley was to have been one of the guests of honor at the ball, but just as he was about to start an alarm of fire came in and effectually prevented this feature of the affair.

The new engine has been tried out be Company 9 in Oak street, -which covers another hilly locality, in the meantime engine No. 9 has been repainted. Chief Quigley expects to put the new company in commission to-morrow, not withstanding the fact that there are no new men available for assignment to it. Capt, Patrick Gallagher of Engine Company No. 9 will probably be assigned temporarily to No. 10, and until a new captain is appointed by Commissioner. Listman, the lieutenant of No. 9 will be in charge of that company. There are no extra captains.

The new company. No. 10. will have to start with only about six men who will be taken, one from each of six other companies. Chief Quigley said this morning that he did not consider it wise to take any more.

"I haven't enough men available and do not know when they will be appointed," he said this morning. "But I am anxious to put this company in commission at once, because house and engine are all ready and should there be a serious fire in that locality we would be open to criticism for having the equipment available but not being prepared."

Company No. 10 will respond to alarms from all parts of the Seventeenth Ward and part of the Sixteenth on first calls. A new district card has been arranged to include it.. The company assignments will be made tomorrow.
Today, the old engine house is a the hub a neighborhood activity.  The tradition of that 1903 ball continues.  Every day (and most nights) at the Westcott Community Center there are  classes, lectures, workshops, training sessions, exhibitions, concerts and many more events for community members of all ages.  And now, in season, there is a farmer's market every Wednesday afternoon.  See the calendar here.  (In a sense, even this blog has its origins at the WCC - since a decade ago I spoke in the still continuing and much acclaimed university Neighbors Lecture Series and presented an early version of my "Walk Around the Block" project).

Information in this text was collected in conjunction with walking tours I developed and conducted as part of Westcott Sundays: Architectural and History Tours, sponsored by the Westcott East Neighborhood Association (WENA) with financial support for this project came from UNSAAC. 
Texts for the first four of these tours can be found online at:  http://www.wenanation.org/ 

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