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Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored

Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
-Restored Watchtower, 2019
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
-Dismantling the Watchtower
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Mount Morris Fire Watchtower
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Mount Morris Fire Watchtower - 1857
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Harlem Fire Watchtower Restored
Robert Silman Report

Update: October 2019

The unique Harlem Fire Watchtower is back on its high perch in Marcus Garvey Park after being dismantled piece by piece and sent out of state for restoration. The Conservancy has been actively involved with the long process of renewal for this 1855-56 cast-iron structure, which once alerted local fire brigades to the presence of a fire using a coded series of peals from its five-ton bell. Prior to the restoration, the tower had been held up by a modern steel cradle that provided support for the 160-year-old cast-iron armature.

The landmark is beloved by neighborhood residents and preservationists who were skeptical about the need to dismantle it and send it away for restoration. Many feared that once taken away, it would be lost and never returned. They advocated for the restoration of the tower in place. But a Parks Department conditions report indicated that the structural condition of the historic armature was so dire that a collapse could happen at any time.

The Conservancy helped settle this dispute by bringing in an independent engineer to assess its condition. The report, funded by the Conservancy and the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, was prepared by Robert Silman Associates. The second report confirmed the Parks Department’s prior assessment that the tower needed to be dismantled as soon as possible or risk catastrophic structural failure.

The Silman report showed areas of deterioration that had been unknown to the community or even to the Parks Department. The tower was in terrible condition. Because of the report and the photographs within the report, the community was re-assured that the steps proposed by Parks were indeed necessary.

The final result of this nail-bitter saga is a beautifully restored fire watchtower standing on its own without need of the visually intrusive cradle. The ribbon-cutting occurred on October 26 and was covered by the NY Times. New York Times Article.

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January 2015
Conservancy Helps Settle Landmark Fire Watchtower Dispute

The Conservancy helped settle a dispute over the fate of Harlem’s famous landmark watchtower by bringing in an independent engineer to assess its condition. The report, commissioned by the Conservancy and the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, and prepared by Robert Silman Associates, confirmed the Parks Department’s prior assessment that the tower needed to be dismantled as soon as possible.

The 160-year-old watchtower is an individual landmark situated at the highest point of Marcus Garvey Park. It is the last of a series of watchtowers built throughout Manhattan to assist in spotting and fighting nearby building fires. It is prized by the Harlem community so local residents were concerned about the City’s plans to first dismantle and store the tower prior to awarding a contract for its restoration. Some community members believed that the tower could be stabilized until such time that the restoration contract was awarded. The Silman report, released in late October, corroborated the view of the Park’s Department that the tower was in very poor condition and could suffer a catastrophic failure if not disassembled as soon as possible. It would be dangerous to wait another year. Though the Department of Parks was able to procure emergency funding for the immediate dismantling of the tower, it could not do so for the restoration and therefore will need to follow normal City contract procurement process for that phase of the project. That process could take a year although the City is committed to doing so and gave everyone assurances that funds were already in place for the job.

The Silman report showed areas of deterioration that had been unknown to the community or even to the Parks Department. The tower is in terrible condition. Because of the report and the photographs within the report, the community was re-assured that the steps proposed by Parks were indeed necessary.

Work began in December on site preparation that involved not only scaffolding of the tower (see photo) but also a complex series of ramps and loading areas to safely bring the weighty cast iron pieces down from their lofty “acropolis”.

Once the pieces are inspected and crated they will be stored at a Parks’ facility on the grounds of Fort Totten, Queens. From there they will be moved for restoration once the City awards the contract. The Conservancy will follow up to make sure that City officials deliver on their promise to commence the restoration phase of the project as soon as possible.