Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Brooklyn Central Office, Bureau of Fire Communications
Address: 35 Empire Boulevard, corner of Washington Avenue
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Year Built: 1913
Architectural Style: Italian Renaissance Revival
Architect: Frank J. Helmle
Other buildings by architect: Boathouse in Prospect Park, St. Barbara’s in Bushwick, St. Gregory’s in Crown Heights North, Bossert Hotel, Brooklyn Heights.
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark, 1966.
The story: Architect Frank Helmle spent a great deal of his prodigious career designing buildings for city agencies, in his position as Superintendent of Public Buildings in Brooklyn from 1902 until about 1913. He designed park pavilions such as the Boathouse and Tennis House in Prospect Park, and the pavilions in Monsignor McGolrick and Fulton Parks. In 1912, the fire department commissioned 42 new firehouses, 15 of which were in Brooklyn, and Helme was in position to dole out those commissions, saving a couple for himself. Sometime people with political appointments are, shall we say, not the best people for the job, but in Helmle, the city lucked out. He was really, really, good.
This building could have been…
…a utilitarian cube, but Helmle, who was a great contributor to the City Beautiful Movement in New York City, where public buildings were designed to inspire and beautify, as well as fulfill their purpose, designed a beautiful Northern Italian pavilion. The building is classic City Beautiful white brick and limestone, with tall archways on a balustrade porch, Classical details, and a Mediterranean-tiled pitched roof. The building is surrounded by the edge of the Botanical Gardens, and complements the natural site, while overlooking busy Empire Blvd. The building was designated an individual landmark in 1966, one of the first group of buildings to get a designation, a reflection on the status and beauty of this fine building.
From its completion, the FDNY used the building as one of their dispatch centers, where fire calls came in and were dispatched to local firehouse best able to get there quickly, with the necessary equipment. In July of 2008, the city closed this facility and re-located the Brooklyn dispatch office to its new fire headquarters in MetroTech, downtown, consolidating Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island together, with the Bronx and Queens in their respective separate locations. Plans were made to consolidate all together at MetroTech, but I don’t know if that’s happened. Today, at the Empire Blvd site, there is a lot of repair work going on, where it looks like they are repairing the front stairway, and massive internal renovations. Rumor has it that EMS has or will taken over the building as their dispatch center, but it does still belong to FDNY, of which EMS is a part. GMAP