Walk past most police precincts in New York City, and you will notice that almost inevitably the entrances are lit by a pair of lamps mounted on each side of the door and that, also almost inevitably, the lamps feature green plastic or glass through which the light shines. Depending on the age of the building the lamps can be ornate spiked lanterns like this one, or plain utilitarian lights using a green plastic cap.
This lantern, in a flamboyant neo-Baroque style, can be found on the three-story neo-classical 108th Precinct Police Station, built in 1903 by architect R. Thomas Short, on 50th Avenue west of Vernon Blvd in Hunters Point, the first neighborhood in southwest Queens north of Newtown Creek. The building continues to serve its original use and is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the area.
According to the NYPD website, “It is believed that the Rattle Watchmen, who patrolled New Amsterdam in the 1650’s, carried lanterns at night with green glass sides in them as a means of identification. When the Watchmen returned to the watch house after patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show people seeking the watchman that he was in the watch house. Today, green lights are hung outside the entrances of police precincts as a symbol that the ‘Watch’ is present and vigilant.”