GREEN LIGHTS, Hunters Point

I usually make it a habit to stay out of police precincts — I’ve never been hauled in for a crime, and the only other occasion I’d have to visit is if I have to report one. But exteriors are a different story, and the 108th Precinct building on 50th Avenue in Hunters Point is one of many architecturally beautiful buildings in NYC. It was constructed in 1903 and designed by architect Thomas Short.

Like most, if not all, precinct buildings in NYC, the entranceway is flanked by two green lights, lightbulbs shining through green-colored glass. The stanchions at the 108th are especially flamboyant, surrounded by spikes, scrolls and other wrought-iron decorations.

According to the NYPD website it’s believed that the Rattle Watchmen (they used rattles to warn the populace about fires or other dangers), a military unit that patrolled New Amsterdam when the Dutch controlled the city (ca. 1625-1664), carried lanterns that shone through green glass as a means of identification. When they returned to their watch house after patrols they hung these lanterns outside the door to let everyone know they had returned. Thus, the green lights became a symbol of vigilance.

Do the police departments in other cities have traditions like this?

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7 Responses to GREEN LIGHTS, Hunters Point

  1. TJD says:

    London Metropolitan Police stations have had blue lamps for a long time.
    There is a British movie called “The Blue Lamp” which set the standard for police films in the post WW2 era.

    • TJD says:

      Also, I have heard that NYC mayor’s house used to have distinct lamps.

      • Ken B. says:

        Absolutely! You can see a prime example at what was Mayor Jimmy Walker’s townhouse on St. Luke’s Place in Greenwich Village.

  2. Edward Findlay says:

    Boston has this with blue lights, for decades every police station has at least one blue light shining either in a box or matching lamps hung outside the station. If you check out your “forgotten Boston” images you can see prime examples with the old District One station on North Street and the old Police Headquarters building on Berkeley Street and the remnants of the support bolts on old District 6 station in South Boston and the other 19th century police stations…

  3. Jeff B. says:

    Paramus NJ Police HQ has had them out front for the past dozen or so years. Just plain, round globes.

  4. Kiwiwriter says:

    One of the very best New York police memoirs is Cornelius Van Willemse’s “Behind the Green Lights.”

    By today’s standards, he’d be a pretty awful cop — he didn’t hesitate to beat up suspects, and was an arrogant self-promoter who shot a bullet through his own straw hat and then told the press the bullet came from the newly-captured criminal he’d been trading gunshots with, and they believed him.

    But the book conveys immense color and period texture for the life of New York City and its cops from the turn of the 20th century, and whoever performed the actual grunt writing task did a fine job. There is good stuff in there about his more honorable pursuit of some of New York’s villains of the time — they had a lot of organized crime then, too.

    He also produced “A Cop’s Yarns,” which is more a collection of amusing stories than “war stories.”

    • Ken B. says:

      Another good memoir, which covers a bit of that period and comes up to the 1940’s is very recent book “One Righteous Man”. It is the story of Samuel Battle, who was the first African-American officer in the NYPD. Truly a great read!

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