GREEN LANTERN, Hunters Point

by Kevin Walsh

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.”



Pilsner Panther February 20, 2013 - 11:29 pm

I’ve always wondered why those station house lights are green… I thought that maybe it had something to do with the fact that in the old days, most of the N.Y.C. cops were Irish!

NY2AZ February 21, 2013 - 10:18 am

Very interesting. Now I understand why NYPD used a (hideous) green, white, & black color scheme on it’s vehicles until 1973 when they changed to blue & white. It was all about the heritage.

The Man February 22, 2013 - 12:05 pm

You can ask any older, retired, NYPD Police Officer about the paint scheme of the Radio Cars colors, Black, White & Green.
Most wish the that paint scheme would return. Everyone knew that the car was NYPD. It was a true classic symbol for NYC.
It’s said, that in the late 60’s and early 70’s, a trend started to take place with Police uniforms. Light blue & white were considered by many to be ‘non’ threatening ‘ colors. So the dark blue shirts changed to Light Blue. Same with Police vehicles. There were thoughts by some , that a standard color would be good for all states to have the same color paint jobs, so everyone would know it was a Police Vehicle. Hence, Light Blue & white started to become standard nationwide. That didn’t last too long. I hope that NYC returns to the triple color that made NYPD an NYC Icon.

derrick October 10, 2015 - 7:51 am

the white RMP /Cruser or Police Patrol Car is based on two factors the first being that it was a supplemental mandate from the federal government if an agency or police department was awarded federal money the cars had to be white. as stated this was an addition to which manufacturer the goverment was in bed with that year the early 80’s it was Chrysler & Ford the 90’s Chevy & Ford, 2000’s Ford & Chevy. The second factor on color was the cost of paint and repair, with white the most cost effective. Agencies that have vehicles that are not white do not get federal funding thus they are not required to utilize white vehicles.

butchie b. February 22, 2013 - 10:20 am

fire houses have red lights outside. I wonder if it worked the same way? That the company was available for a call.

The Man February 22, 2013 - 11:47 am

A common nick name given Police Station Houses was ‘The Green Light Hotel’.

M.K. Hobson February 23, 2013 - 6:55 pm

Aha! I just bought an original copy of the book, “Behind the Green Lights” by Cornelius Willemse (, in which he recounts his days as Tenderloin beat cop in the 1900s. I didn’t know what the significance of the titular “green lights” were, but now I do. Thanks!

Joe Fliel February 24, 2013 - 5:48 pm

I hate you and I mean it in a good way. I’ve been trying to find both of his books for years. There was a copy of “Behind the Green Lights” available at Alibris………..I wasn’t about to fork over $394.97 for it, though.

Martin Sloman February 23, 2013 - 8:49 pm

That lamp has been modelled on the lamps in the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.

I know that because we have almost identical lamps on India Building, a large office building in the centre of Liverpool.

Old7Motorman February 25, 2013 - 3:57 am

Alas, the paint schemes of cop cars nowadays are being determined by economics. New Rochelle had blue police cars when I moved there nine years ago, but they’re gradually being replaced by white cars with blue trims, because it saves the city a couple of grand per car. I’ve heard that’s the case in several other jurisdictions, too. I do miss the black/green/white of the cars of my youth.

Re the 108th: My grandma got stood up at the altar, and my great-grandma promptly went on the warpath, heading around the corner to the 108th to grab a cop to go with the pastor. She figured when she found the jerk who stood her daughter up, there was going to be need for one or the other, possibly both. I understand it wasn’t pretty after she found the guy — plenty of damage was done that didn’t require her husband’s tools from the Fire Department :-S

chris February 26, 2013 - 9:12 pm

I allus wondered about them green lanterns
Walsh shoulda been a history major

Givenchy Bags July 5, 2013 - 10:44 am

2C: I just like looking nice, love. Sometimes it about the logo, sometimes it not. I just like looking nice and spiffy.

Why police precincts have green lanterns outside | Ephemeral New York October 23, 2013 - 11:51 pm

[…] Forgotten New York has a much better shot here. It’s a beauty! Share this:TwitterFacebookDiggRedditTumblrPinterestEmailLike this:Like […]

Bill Mitchell January 14, 2014 - 5:52 pm

One of our regular customers for years was an elevator company located across the street from the 108 on 50th Ave. in Hunters Point. It was always a test of my professional delivery expertise whenever making a delivery there. It’s not so easy to double park to make a delivery on that block without blocking traffic or access in or out to the station house, most of the deliveries were simply too heavy to do otherwise. But it somehow always got done, sometimes even requiring the movement of RMPs and other police vehicles. There are over eight million stories in the Naked City, this has been one of them.

Nirmal March 12, 2014 - 11:51 pm

i was reading about this sometime ago, after i had snapped pics of the lanterns at the station in in jamaica off jamaica ave. i was on a gurdwara (sikh temple) hunt and on the way back, came across it. found it very interesting! i share this now as one of many lessons ive learned since moving here.

Luckyben February 27, 2018 - 8:05 am

Safety white has been determined by the insurance industry worldwide survey as a color that is the lease likely to be hit or be in an accident, and if your car is white you should be able to get a discount on your insurance


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