I’ve discussed these fire alarm indicator lamps before — Forgotten NY has been around now for 22 years as of 2021 — but I never get tired of featuring them, even now that they have been decommissioned for over a decade and are no longer serviced. In the 1960s, they ceded their industry standard to much shorter, J-shaped masts that were deployed on telephone poles and masts alike.
These scrolled masts were at one time seen in NYC by the thousands on side streets, supporting radial-wave incandescent lamps. Notice that in this E.E. Rutter photo on Astoria Boulevard in 1933, the scroll is on the top of the mast to make way for the fire alarm indicator, which was made with a red glass globe. Later, orange plastic globes replaced them and finally, the shorter oblong reflectors seen today.
In some cases, though, a lengthier mast was used and some of those could not support an additional fire alarm light. In those cases, there was an additional scrolled mast to support the fire alarm light. In the 1950s, when the finned masts we see today on telephone poles were introduced, in some cases the existing scrolled mast with the fire alarm lamp was retained in place, and serviced for over 4 decades. However, most telephone poles in the vicinity of the fire alarm received the newer J-shaped bracket.
I’m always fascinated to spot a scrolled mast still in place, especially one with the plastic reflector disc (that was illuminated by a small incandescent bulb) still there. When I moved to 43rd Avenue in Flushing in 1993, there were two of them on the avenue nearby; this one is on 161st Street.
Seen less frequently is the shorty fire alarm bracket. These never supported street lighting; they were always used to hold fire alarm indicators. They could be found on telephone poles and also, more rarely, on pillars supporting elevated trains. This one is by Flushing Cemetery at 46th avenue and 167th Street, near Louis Armstrong’s gravesite. I’d say fewer than a dozen of these shorty brackets can still be found in the five boroughs.
Over a decade ago, these lamps were decommissioned and replaced by red “top hat” alarm indicators that mount directly on the main streetlamp fixture. In my opinion, that’s a bad place for them, but both the main light and the fire alarm light can be controlled by the same circuit. Also, I have a feeling the Department of Transportation was running out of the small incandescent bulbs that the older alarm lamps required.
As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.