Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Soft Spot for Old Firehouses

While doing some research this morning, I learned that the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant reopened for business yesterday following a devastating fire in December 2014. I have never been to this dining establishment but am glad nonetheless for the owner, employees, and patrons. One, I hate to see any business shuttered because of a fire. Two, this restaurant is housed in a historic former Chicago F.D. firehouse, and I have a soft spot for old firehouses.

Chicago Firehouse Restaurant fire, December 10, 2014.
Photo by Chicago Fire Department
Old fire stations are not just a place where firefighters store their equipment and hang out awaiting the next call. They are part of history and become as much a part of a firefighter's life as the crew he or she works with.

This particular Chicago fire station was built in 1905 to house a horse-drawn engine and continued to serve its community for decades. Ron Howard partially filmed his 1991 movie Backdraft there, and it became a restaurant in 2000. In 2003, the building was designated as a landmark.

So how do firehouses end up not being firehouses anymore? Older fire stations may not be adequate to house new, larger apparatus and/or more firefighters. Buildings may have developed issues that are cost-prohibitive to rectify such as structural instability and faulty utility or HVAC systems, or they may contain hazardous materials such as asbestos. Response demographics can change over time, forcing the relocation of a fire station to provide better service to a community.

Once firefighters have moved on, some firehouses are demolished. Others find new lives as office space, restaurants, museums, event venues, and even private homes.

Here’s wishing the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant many more years of success.

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