Preparing for the Return of the Harlem Fire Watchtower to Marcus Garvey Park

 

 

 

Harlem Fire Watchtower
April 24, 2015 Removal of the bell, which weights 10,000 pounds.  Harlem Fire Watchtower, Marcus Garvey Park

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 in the Fall of 2018.  A staging area has already been prepared for trucks, and sheds have been constructed for equipment at the base of the Acropolis. Re-assembly of this landmark structure now has an anticipated completion date of January, 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.

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.

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

 

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. Currently on view, Atlas of the Third Millennium by the artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez to October 1, 2018, and Maren Hassinger: Monuments, on view to June 10, 2019.

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.

We will continue to update this page, as progress occurs. In the meantime, follow progress on the Harlem Fire Watchtower Facebook Page.