Preparing for the Return of the Harlem Fire Watchtower to Marcus Garvey Park on October 26, 2019

 

 

 

Image taken October 18, 2019, courtesy of a reader

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, will be reinstalled, with a Fire Watchtower Reception set for Saturday, October 26, 2019. As reported to GothamToGo by Connie Lee, President of The Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative, the long-awaited event will take place from Noon to 3:00pm on The Acropolis. All are invited ~ RSVP and more information Here.

In preparation for the opening of the Acropolis, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative has requested funds from NYC Council of Participatory Budgeting for the purpose of installing cameras and lighting on the Acropolis. Here is the link for adding your name for support for this project, and links to share on Facebook and Twitter.


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.

While we wait, 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

Photo credit by an anonymous reader

 

Photo credit by anonymous reader

 

October 19, 2019

Below, the Parks Department invitation to the community for the ribbon cutting ceremony on October 26, 2019:

Dear Friends:

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

They’re back! and very happy to be home ~ East Harlem Red-Tailed Hawks

 

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of a reader

 

Photo sent to us by a reader

 

Image courtesy of a reader

 

Image courtesy of a reader

 

 


 

October 17, 2019

The American flag just came down. Despite the wind, scaffolding will start to come down.

American Flag came down this morning

 

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!

October 6, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Madison Avenue side, August 30, 2019

On our way up the steps along the Madison Avenue side, we were delighted to see the bell unwrapped and in full view.

Taking a closer look, August 30, 2019

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.

August 30, 2019
August 30 2019
Acropolis, August 30, 2019

Above and below, tremendous progress on the Acropolis, surrounding the historic Watchtower. Looks like the project is right on track for a Fall opening.

Acropolis, August 30, 2019

 

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?

Aug 13 2019
August 13 2019
August 13 2019

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!)

The historic bell, in a protective cover

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).

july 17 2019

 

july 17 2019

 

july 17 2019

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

The equipment that hoists materials up to the Acropolis from a level below.

 

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.

spotted in the staging area may 20 2019

 

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 Credit:Connie Lee, President, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative

 

Image Credit:Connie Lee, President, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative

 

Image Credit:Connie Lee, President, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative

 

Image credit: Connie Lee, President, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/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 Credit:Connie Lee, President, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative

 

Image Credit:Connie Lee, President, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative

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.

Image Credit:Connie Lee, President, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative

 

April 12, 2019

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 12 2019

 

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

March 2, 2019 ~ Snowy weekend

 

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.

Closeup, showing the open section they will close today. February 20, 2019

The above image shows the area above the pillars to be connected today, ahead of the storm this afternoon.

Showing one of the pillars being moved into place. February 20,, 2019

The above image show one of the pillars being moved into place

February 20, 2019
February 20, 2019 ~ working to connect the second level of pillars

Here, I must mention that it is 27 degrees outside.

 

February 18, 2019

More pillars arrived. Looks like next week will be busy.

feb 16 2019 Six more pillars were taken up to the Acropolis, one by one.

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.

New cement walkways
This stairway will finally be open to the Acropolis when the project is complete. It has previously been so overgrown with weeds that we couldn’t even see it.

 

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.

1-22-19
1-22-19
1-22-19
1-22-19

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.”

Here’s a peek at one of the three tiers of fluted columns. Image via NYC Parks via Marcus Garvey Park Alliance
Image courtesy of NYC Parks Dept via Marcus Garvey Park Alliance
Image courtesy of NYC Parks Dept via Marcus Garvey Park Alliance
Image courtesy NYC Parks Dept via Marcus Garvey Parks Alliance

…and we couldn’t resist taking a look.

Closeup of the pillars on the Acropolis.

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.

Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance Chatting with the Fabricator

 

December 4, 2018

Fabulous photo from a reader

December 3, 2018

Scaffolding goes up in preparation for the return of the watchtower
View from Madison Ave, looking west. Dec 3,, 2018
December 3, 2018
Image taken by Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative, December 3, 2018

 

November 10, 2018

View of the scaffolding on the Acropolis, November 10, 2018
A closeup of the scaffolding on the Acropolis that will hoist up the historic fire watchtower, piece by piece, when it returns

 

October 24, 2018

Scaffolding prepared that will hoist individual parts of the watchtower, including the bell. October 24, 2018
Still a lot of work to do. October 24, 2018
A view of the scaffolding from the upper level, on the Acropolis. October 24, 2018
President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance/Public Art Initiative, Connie Lee with Board Member, Susan Huck, getting an update on the progress. October 24, 2018
A close-up of the scuffling on the Acropolis landing. October 24, 2018
Unused for many years, these steps will be repaired and open up on the Acropolis, next to the Watchtower. 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

Work on the Acropolis continues. This picture taken on October 10, 2018. photo: AFineLyne
Scaffolding where the watchtower and bell will be hoisted up, to be reinstalled on the Acropolis. Picture taken October 10, 2018. Photo: AFineLyne
Interesting to note the scale of the workmen standing on the Acropolis. Taken October 10, 2018. Photo: AFineLyne

 

September 13, 2018

Reconstruction September 13, 2018  Photos: AFineLyne
On the Acropolis, Marcus Garvey Park, September 13, 2018
On the Acropolis, looking North. September 13, 2018
This is the opening where the watchtower and bell will be hoisted up by pulley  upon its return. September 13, 2018

 

July 22, 2018

July 22, 2018
July 22, 2018

 

March 26, 2018

Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, surveying the site on 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.

Harlem Fire Watchtower. Image via Library of Congress

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.

Image via Library of Congress

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.

A last good-bye before the Watchtower is removed for restoration, 2013, before fences and scuffling go up.

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.

Harlem Fire Watchtower
November 29, 2013

As a side note, did you know that the Harlem Fire Watchtower was featured prominently in Ralph Ellison’s novel ‘The Invisible Man’?

Scaffolding went up 2014

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower removal
April 2015 – bell removed

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 2015 – Removal of the bell within the Harlem Fire Watchtower

 

The entire watchtower now removed, and disassembling of the scaffolding,

 

April 24, 2015

 

April 24, 2015

 

April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
Removal of the bell, Harlem Fire Watchtower, April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015, removal of the Harlem Fire Watchtower bell

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
May 13, 2015, removing the scaffolding

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.

April, 2018 ~ Staging area set up for trucks, and sheds built for tools, in preparation for the return of the watchtower. In the background, the swimming pool. Image on the corner of 124th Street and Madison Avenue.

Ribbon Cutting and unveiling of the historic Harlem Fire Watchtower, Saturday, October 26, 2019.