Not everything happening on or near Billionaires’ Row is supertall. Some of it is supersmall, relatively speaking. Two months ago, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the restoration and renovation of an individual landmark in the midst of the coming towers. That gives us the perfect opportunity to tell you a little bit about Engine Company No. 23.
Located at 215 West 58th Street, it sits just east of the future driveway for 220 Central Park South, which will eventually rise 950 feet, and across the street from the back of 217 West 57th Street/Nordstrom Tower, officially Central Park Tower, which will eventually rise 1,550 feet.
The company itself is one of the FDNY’s oldest, having been organized on October 6, 1865, only two months after the establishment of a paid fire department, according to the structure’s LPC designation report. Prior to that, it was the Harry Howard Volunteer Company 36, which was established under a different name in 1810. The original name was Equitable Company 36, but the name was changed in 1858, following department chief engineer Harry Howard suffering a stroke.
Engine Company No. 23 started on West 68th Street, between Broadway and Tenth Avenue, on the section of the road we now call Amsterdam Avenue. But it moved to 233 West 58th Street in 1884, staying there until moving to its current home.
Designed by architect Alexander H. Stevens, it was built between 1905 and 1906. The three-story building’s style is pretty standard Beaux-Arts, featuring Indiana limestone and red brick. It fit in well along a corridor filled with stables and a riding academy. You see, fire-fighting apparatus was pulled by horses back then. Motorized apparatus was introduced shortly thereafter in 1907.
The 2-3 has been at 215 West 58th Street since 1906, except for about four months in 1998 when they moved over to Amsterdam Avenue while their 58th Street digs were being remodeled.
The members of “New York’s Bravest” who have served there served in some notable emergencies.
They responded to the fire and capsizing of the steamship Normandie in 1942. At the time, the vessel was being converted into a troopship to be named the USS Lafayette. They responded to the plane crash at the Empire State Building in 1945 and fires at the Times Tower and Mayflower Hotel in 1960. Twelve firemen lost their lives battling a blaze at a loft at 23rd Street and Broadway in 1966. In 1980, they rescued a crane operator from above the burning construction site of Trump Tower.
The building itself was honored with designation as an individual landmark in 1989 and that’s why its restoration and renovation had to be approved by the LPC this January. Among the work approved is the replacement of skylights, new exhaust systems, new mechanical equipment, new railings, and a repair of the façade, whose cornice is coming away from the building. (If you’d like to see more details about the work, check out the LPC presentation slides below.)
Next time you’re in Midtown and you and looking up at the skyscrapers, don’t forget to look at the history staring you right in the face.