For some reason, fire alarms, and the lamps that indicate their presence, still have a number of samples that have remained unchanged for over a century in NYC. Some fire alarms still operational in the city (the ones that have decorative torches at the apex that look like ice cream cones) have been in place since 1912, while some of the brackets on telephone poles that held lamps indicating their presence go back almost as long.



Pictured in the title card is a surviving older version of a fire alarm indicator lamp still in place at 43rd Avenue and 161st Street in Flushing. Newer brackets are much shorter, are in a “J” shape, and have no scrollwork at all, though there was a shorter version (above) of this bracket with simpler scrollwork (seen here on 19th Street opposite Astoria Park), though those are pretty rare now.

The scrolled brackets evolved out of street lighting in the early 20th Century. If you look at photos of Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island streets that were removed from the business sections before about 1955, these brackets were ubiquitous, holding radial-wave lamps and later, “crescent moon” and then either Bell or AK-10 “cups” that had glass reflector bowls.

When a simplified telephone pole bracket that had a supportive fin began to appear in the 1950s, the scrolled brackets were removed for the most part. But some found work holding lamps indicating the presence of fire alarms. At first, the incandescent bulbs were housed in globular orange plastic diffusers, but these gave way to the cylindrical version shown here.

Around 2000 the city stopped servicing these lamps as small red indicator lamps were affixed to the photocells of existing sodium vapor lamps and increasingly now, LED fixtures.

But the city has left these ghosts in place, apparently finding it more trouble to remove and discard them.


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