While strolling along Great Jones Street one day during the summer of 2016, I noticed the fire trucks pulling up to their house, getting ready to enter. I immediately quickened my pace and stood there, gazing inside. One of the firemen approached me and began chatting about the architecture and the history of Engine Company 33 and Ladder Company 9.
I learned from this kind man, who has been with the department since 1983, that the building was designed by renowned architect Ernest Flagg. Pointing to the top of the firehouse, the fireman insisted that I go to my computer and have a look at old photos of the Beaux Arts Singer Building that once stood in lower Manhattan and compare the three-story arch and windows to his firehouse. He assured me that I would see the similarities, for Flagg chose to reuse these concepts when designing his skyscraper. For a short period in 1908, it was considered to be the tallest structure in the world. Sadly, it was knocked down in 1968.
In 1899, the firehouse was originally conceived as a place where the chief of the department could work on a daily basis. Their main headquarters were uptown on 67th Street, but my friendly fireman proudly shared that this was where the highest uniformed person and his staff were housed. At the time, firemen were continuously on duty - "they only had an hour or two off a day until 1917 or 1918 and then it got a little bit better for them." Thus, it was in this same building that the men ate their meals and slept whenever they could.
I have not met a fireman while walking on the side streets who has not mentioned those who perished on September 11. Tragically, this firehouse lost ten of their fourteen heroic firefighters when the World Trade Center collapsed. At the conclusion of our conversation, this wonderful man told me that he would be "put out to pasture" in less than two years, as there is mandatory retirement at the young age of sixty-five in the fire department. There is no doubt that he will leave having had a full and meaningful career with his peers and that New York City is a better place because of him.
Kenkeleba Garden, named for an African healing plant, is simply magical. We followed the densely forested greenery around to the back, arriving at a clearing that transported us to another world far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. We were completely surprised when we landed in front of the sculpture garden, which is only visible from 3rd Street. From large African sculptures to collections of scraps or bricolage, a specialty of the Lower East Side art scene, we could not help but linger before doubling back and re-emerging onto the concrete sidewalks of 2nd Street. It was not until many months later, when we had the pleasure of meeting Joe Overstreet and his wife, Corinne Jennings, that we learned that this is affiliated with their gallery next door, Kenkeleba House. It is their life-long dream to someday use these grounds to build a museum that would house their massive collection of African-American art.