Harlemites and preservationists were delighted to receive the recent news that the historic Harlem Fire Watchtower, removed from the Acropolis overlooking Marcus Garvey Park in 2015 for restoration, would have its unveiling and ribbon-cutting on October 26, 2019. Prior to COVID-19, the Urban Park Rangers opened the gate and escorted the public up to the top of the Watchtower, giving the public a bit of history and a spectacular view.
Below, a few images and history of the Watchtower as it was dissembled in 2015, and reassembled in 2019.
GothamToGo will follow the reconstruction process, updating images from now until the final unveiling ~ with the most recent displayed first. Scroll way down to see the deconstruction of the watchtower that took place in 2015.
Let’s take a look at the Fire Watchtower/Landscape Master Plan which was originally proposed at CB 11 in the summer of 2015. The design drawings were created by Thornton Tomasetti, commissioned by the Parks Department.
Below is the elevation drawing, submitted to CB 11 at the same time. Each day, a steady stream of park-goers head up the steps to the Acropolis to check on the progress ~ spend a few minutes watching the workers. They ascend to the top with kids, dogs, or jogging up the steps as part of a daily routine. And each day the Acropolis begins to take a shape similar to the original drawings. Stay tuned, as we continue to post updates, and receive info from Parks.
October 25, 2019 ~ Getting ready for the ribbon-cutting today
October 24, 2019
October 19, 2019
Below, the Parks Department invitation to the community for the ribbon cutting ceremony on October 26, 2019:
Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, is inviting the community to the ribbon cutting for the newly restored Mt. Morris Fire Watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park nextSaturday, October 26, at 1 p.m. The Fire Watchtower is located on top of the Acropolis in the middle of the park at W. 122nd Street between Mt. Morris Park West and Madison Avenue.
A $7.9 million project restored the historic cast iron structure and the surrounding landscape, ensuring the continued survival of a significant landmark for the Harlem community in a much improved setting. Much of the original components were retained, while the Watchtower was brought up to current engineering standards. The structure was reinforced with internal cross bracing and new stainless steel components, and the roof was restored to its original configuration based on archival photographs. The Watchtower and surrounding area now also feature code-compliant guardrails, reconstructed stairs on the southwest end of the site, a reconstructed retaining wall on the northwest side and restored bluestone pavement on the upper level of the Acropolis.
The Fire Watchtower was originally erected in 1856-57, the third such tower in New York City, built at a time when fire was capable of destroying a city largely constructed of wood. Fire watchtowers were discontinued after 1878. The tower was designated a New York City landmark in 1967 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
We hope you will be able to attend this celebration of the long-awaited return of the Fire Watchtower to Harlem.
October 18, 2019
October 17, 2019
The American flag just came down. Despite the wind, scaffolding will start to come down.
October 6, 2019
Once again, we had an opportunity to tag along with the President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative, Connie Lee, as she took stock of progress on the Acropolis to date. The spiral stairs are in ~ the railing at the top is completely installed ~ and it appears that the Park is on the last leg of the very long journey toward the restoration of the Park’s historic fire watchtower. Pictures below….. Stay tuned for Opening Date!
August 30,, 2019
It’s the end of the month, and we thought it a good time to tag along with Connie Lee, President of Marcus Garvey Park Alliance (and Public Art Initiative) on her visit to the Acropolis today to check on the progress of the Watchtower.
On our way up the steps along the Madison Avenue side, we were delighted to see the bell unwrapped and in full view.
We couldn’t resist a few close-up photos of the bell, weighing 10,000 pounds. The project is now waiting for the spiral cast iron stairway, leading to the top of the tower, which should be installed in September.
Above and below, tremendous progress on the Acropolis, surrounding the historic Watchtower. Looks like the project is right on track for a Fall opening.
August 13, 2019
It’s a rainy day, but the workmen have been high up on the scaffolding since at least 7:30am today ~ and even worked over last weekend, when the temperature was approaching 90! Looking closeup, could they be topping off?
July 17, 2019
We got a heads-up from Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, that the bell was hoisted up to the Acropolis and placed ~ with a protective cover ~ inside the Watchtower. So up we went (yes, it’s 90 degrees!)
Half-dozen men were working earlier than usual (7:30am) in advance of a flash-flood warner expected in a few hours. All their attention was within the tower, and the carefully protected/covered bell was plainly in view (above).
Below is a shot of the area on the Acropolis where the equipment, watchtower and bell were hoisted up from the level below ~ a level easily accessible by truck
July 4, 2019
Workmen hoisted an American Flag for the 4th of July! We hear (from the President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance) that the historic bell in its crate has arrived.
July 1, 2019
It appears that much of the work being done is on the other side (the south side) of the Acropolis ~ out of our line of sight. However, no more work on the Watchtower since we were here last. A notice was posted recently about an August unveiling. Stay tuned!
May 20, 2019
This crate was spotted in the staging area along 124th street today! You will remember this crate from 2015 (if not, scroll down) A sure sign that the watchtower is making progress.
May 17, 2019
April 16, 2019
Moving right along, it appears that interior scaffolding is being installed in preparation for the bell and/or stairs. Images courtesy of Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance and Public Art Initiative.
Image above, extensive wall repair/grouting on the Acropolis. Can’t help but notice the tree’s in bloom, as we move through the seasons.
Image above shows new flooring on the Acropolis along with extensive repair/grout work on the surrounding wall. Below is a nice shot of the walk down the Acropolis on the Madison Avenue side, with a view of the basketball court.
April 12, 2019
Workers starting well before 7:30am today, they have four more pillars up on a new (fourth) level, along with continued cement work on the surrounding area.
April 10, 2019
With two more levels to complete on the outer portion of the fire watchtower, work is moving ahead today on the surrounding area.
March 2, 2019
February 22, 2019
Here’s a spectacular view of work in progress today.
February 20, 2019
Installation of the second level of pillars just ahead of a winter storm later today.
The above image shows the area above the pillars to be connected today, ahead of the storm this afternoon.
The above image show one of the pillars being moved into place
Here, I must mention that it is 27 degrees outside.
February 18, 2019
More pillars arrived. Looks like next week will be busy.
February 5, 2019
Cement work done, creating several walkways ~ and a nice shot of a stairway to the watchtower that has never been open, and is in the process of being restored.
January 22, 2019
On the Acropolis with Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative, watching the installation of the pillars.
December 20, 2018
The Parks Department sent out the following press release via Marcus Garvey Park Alliance on December 19th: “The first shipment of columns arrived yesterday and they were brought up to the Acropolis (see attached photos). Spandrels were set in place, holes cored and will be permanently affixed tomorrow. Rain is expected on Friday, and the ironworkers will be off for two weeks for the holidays. So the columns will not be erected until January, but real progress has been made.”
…and we couldn’t resist taking a look.
Above is a close-up we took of the pillars. Below, Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance chats with the Fabricator about the timeline for various installations.
December 4, 2018
December 3, 2018
November 10, 2018
October 24, 2018
The image above is a stairway that has been closed to the public for many years. This stairway will be repaired and opened up as a main entrance to the Acropolis and the Harlem Fire Watchtower.
October 10, 2018
September 13, 2018
July 22, 2018
March 26, 2018
The restoration project was extensive, and involved careful inspection and testing of the 176 original components. It was determined that only 39 could be salvaged, and that 137 needed to be recast. The fabrication of these pieces is proceeding at a cast-iron foundry in Alabama.
Let’s take a look back in time, when firehouses were the way city dwellers spotted fires and sounded an alert ~ before electric telegraphs were installed in 1878.
The Harlem Fire Watchtower was built by Julius H. Kroehl sometime between 1855 and 1857, and designed by James Bogardus at a cost of $2,300. It was located at the highest part of the Acropolis (70 feet above ground, known as Snake Hill) in the center of Marcus Garvey Park (formerly Mount Morris Park), between 120th and 124th Street. The tower alerted all of northern Manhattan of fires ~ three bells for Yorkville; four bells for Bloomingdale, five bells for Harlem, six bells for Manhattanville, and so on.
It is important to note that the ‘Acropolis’ was a ‘Works Project Administration’ (WPA) jobs program, creating stone retaining walls and wide steps going up to the Acropolis from several sides. Mount Morris Park was renamed Marcus Garvey Park in 1973.
The Harlem Fire Watchtower was designated a City Landmark in 1967, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. It is constructed of cast iron, composed of three tiers of fluted columns superimposed on each other, and a spiral cast iron stairway leading to the top of the tower. It has a smaller, eight-sided open lantern at the top, which served as an observation booth to protect the volunteer watchmen from bad weather. It stands 47-feet tall, with a bell weighing 10,000 pounds. Age and weather have taken a toll on the beloved watchtower ~ the last surviving fire watchtower of the original thirteen that dotted Manhattan.
In recent years, the tower was exhibiting a great deal of deterioration. Community efforts moved forward raising funds for the project, which would cost about $4 million. Drawings were prepared and presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the State Office of Historic Preservation and Community Board 11, and a timeline was put in place for the dismantling, renovation and return of the beloved historic structure.
The firm of Thornton Tomasetti was chosen to do the restoration, and on April 18, 2014, scaffolding went up around the watchtower, fencing went up around the Acropolis, and the deconstruction began, dismantling the watchtower, piece by piece. Below are images of the final day, when the 10,000 pound bell was removed.
As a side note, did you know that the Harlem Fire Watchtower was featured prominently in Ralph Ellison’s novel ‘The Invisible Man’?
During this time, Marcus Garvey Park has flourished, with an abundance of events and activities including the annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, Classical Theatre of Harlem performances, and Jazzmobile held at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater. The park has an abundance of playgrounds, a baseball field, chess tables, basketball, swimming pool, community center, three little free libraries, free reading to children (on the lawn under the trees), and every Saturday, weather permitting, the Harlem Drummers can be heard at the Drum Circle near Madison Avenue between 123/124th Streets. The park has also been the recipient of outdoor art installations through the efforts of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance’s Public Art Initiative.
Also happening on The Acropolis ~ weather permitting, #RitesOfDrum will begin their second season on May 2, 2021 every Sunday.