NYC’s Historical Firehouses: Little Italy and Vicinity

In the early years of New York City’s history, the fire department was made up of volunteers. Beginning in 1865, however, the city had a professional firefighting force for the first time with the establishment of the Fire Department of New York. Over the next several decades, numerous firehouses were constructed to house neighborhood units. Most have since been torn down to make way for newer construction, but there are still some hidden gems scattered around the city. Each one has its own character and history.

The first firehouse I’m going to feature in this post is no longer an active firehouse, but it was originally home to Engine Company 31. It’s a gorgeous building, both a New York City landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture draws inspiration from 16th century French chateau. Today, the building is home to the Downtown Community Television Center, which provides workshops and other resources for documentary filmaking in the local community.


The building has some beautiful, intricate details.



If you want to see the old Engine 31 firehouse for yourself, it is located at 87 Lafayette Street.

Another historical firehouse is the home to Engine Company 55. It is located at 363 Broome Street in Little Italy. Unlike Engine 31, the Engine 55 firehouse is still an active firehouse.


The building has some interesting architectural details.



One interesting note: the character actor Steve Buscemi worked as a FDNY firefighter when he was young, and Engine Company 55 was his unit.

Much more important, this firehouse has bronze memorial plaques on the walls to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty. The oldest one is this one, memorializing men who died in 1903 and 1918:


Tragically, Engine 55 was one of the first units responding to the World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11. The unit lost five of its own that day, and each one has his own plaque next to the firehouse’s entrance. Because the unit was one of the first ones on the scene of the terrorist attack, the firetruck itself was buried under the rubble when the towers collapsed. The crushed truck was not found until approximately 6 months later, when the recovery crews discovered it more than 40 feet below ground. Although the plaques look very similar, I thought it was important to honor each firefighter by showing them here. You will see that all of them state that the firefighter was “operating at Manhattan Box 5-5-8087.” From my research, it appears that 8087 was the fire alarm box associated with the World Trade Center.






22 thoughts on “NYC’s Historical Firehouses: Little Italy and Vicinity

  1. Very sensitive & respectful to show all the plaques, good for you. On a lighter note, how glorious & improbable the public architecture of that era now appears to our modern eyes! All that chateau-etc inspiration… And we today treasure those details of ornamentation. Outsized public display is still with us, but expressed so differently.

    1. I know! It seems so strange that they paid so much attention to architectural ornamentation on these buildings – most modern firehouses are much more utilitarian looking in comparison. But it’s definitely to our advantage and enjoyment that the older buildings were so decorated.

      1. A few of the old Toronto fire halls look broadly similar (though with less emphasis on eagles, you understand! we ran more to crowns, thank you very much)

  2. They are indeed little gems, lovingly photographed. What set you on their trail? I agree with icelandpenny about your inclusion of all plaques: it’s too easy for the individual to be generalised.

    1. Some of the things I find, like these two firehouses, are the result of just wandering up and down streets looking for anything interesting. I was actually looking for street art and architectural details in that area the other day, and happened to find these buildings along the way. Once I got home, I researched more about them.

  3. oh what delights they are. I love discovering these architectural gems. It’s so poignant to see the memorials for 9/11 😦 May they all rest in peace. Thanks for sharing these images.

  4. Shireen Gheba Najib

    Really liked your write up. Actually fascinating. Specially the plaques of the names of firefighters. It’s important to honour those who die in uniform, in the line of duty. The buildings were interesting too.

  5. Two very different buildings for the same purpose! Who on earth would have thought a French chateau would be the ideal style for a fire station?
    Those memorial plaques are very sobering, and so tragic.

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