I’ve mentioned NYC’s public fire alarms before because they’re true “living fossils” on NYC streets whose design was pretty much codified and finalized in the 1912-1913 period. In the wireless age they’re being phased out, in part because technology has outrun them and in part because local youths enjoy calling in false alarms using them. Older ones use a pull handle to call the local firehouse, while others have had separate FDNY and NYPD call buttons installed (when this first happened I recall a public ad featuring NY Knick Walt “Clyde” Frazier providing instructions, but it doesn’t seem to have made youtube). ┬áThis one is a fairly conventional entry in the genre at 6th Avenue and West 29th. As you can see it’s been decommissioned, but the city seems to be leaving them in place in case they ever get hooked up again.


This one can be found at Park Avenue and East 34th Street. I’m showing you the base for now, and you can see the F.D.N.Y. embossed plate. This alarm, too, has been decommissioned, and resourceful, busy New Yorkers have quickly repurposed this old campaigner as a trash receptacle. (However, the Department of Sanitation has not been officially informed of such repurposement, and does not empty them.)


What makes this alarm unusual is that instead of the torch, or “ice cream cone” found on more conventional models, it instead has a shaft and a fire alarm indicator light, employing an orange plastic cylinder diffuser. This kind of arrangement was much more common when this design first appeared in 1912-1913 (fire alarms first appeared in 1878, and lamps indicating their presence were typically mounted like this until 1913 or so; after that they were mounted on adjacent lampposts, likely so they would be higher off the pavement).

What’s unusual here is that the orange cylinder has survived. You see a number of shafts like this here and there but the other ones connect to overhead wiring.

Of course by featuring it I have sounded the death knell, but at least I have a photograph to remember it by.




Categorized in: Forgotten Slices Signs Tagged with:


  1. JMB says:

    I would love to have one of these to restore and turn into some type of unique indoor lamp. The metal work is still good and once you get the years of grime, grit, and paint off,i bet they would look amazing.

  2. Ray says:

    Does the City have an official policy about these… remove vs preserve? I wonder if Landmarks ever designates sidewalk features like this as a group.

    I remember seeing posts elsewhere of neighbors taking it upon themselves to paint in a pretty over the top Victorian way.

  3. Jeff B. says:

    Sometime back in 1973-1978, I saw a crew removing one of this type of alarm box from the corner of Milton St and West St in Greenpoint. I wandered over and asked them what they did with the old alarm boxes and they replied “Do you want it?, You can have it.” I had a way to get it back to Paramus; I was with my friend who’s Dad owned DTI at 50 Greenpoint Av and getting a truck was no problem, if we could have lifted it into the truck (the firemen? had a lift or crane to get it into their truck). I had no way to move it once I got home and really didn’t want the crap from my parents, so I erred on the side of caution and declined the offer. Oh well.

  4. Tom says:

    From time to time the complete boxes come up on that great auction site

    I have two of the front doors, but the box itself is too expensive for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.