The lives of a former Chambers Street firehouse

New York is all about repurposed buildings. And the slender, restrained brick building at 160 Chambers Street perfectly exemplifies this.

For almost 200 years, as this stretch of today’s Tribeca has changed, it’s served as a private home, police station, charity hospital, firehouse, commercial space, and then back to residences once more.

160 Chambers began as the three-story brick home of a builder named Samuel Thomson. Completed in 1833, it would have been a half-block from Stuart’s candy and sugar refinery at Chambers and Greenwich Streets—a place of industry it what was still a mostly residential section of the city.

The house changed hands three years later, according to a Landmarks Preservation Committee report. A prominent lawyer named David Ogden moved in; he made it his home until 1848.

Who lived in it after that is unclear. But an ad for the residence ran in the New York Times in 1853 described it as “built in the most substantial manner.”

By 1863, as the neighborhood lost its luster as a residential enclave, 160 Chambers was purchased by the city and turned into a police station for the Third Precinct. At the time, a professional police department had only existed in Manhattan for 18 years.

During its years as a precinct house, two more stories were added, and it underwent a redesign in the Second Empire style, reflected in the mansard roof.

“The Third Police Precinct Station House was located here until 1875,” states the LPC report. “The building then housed the House of Relief (left), a hospital under the charge of New York Hospital, from 1875 until 1894.”

After the House of Relief left, city officials decided to make 160 Chambers Street a firehouse for Engine Company 29, altering the first floor to make room for a fire engine. Firefighters were based here until 1947.

Until the 1960s, it was home to the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

Subsequently sold by the city and put back in private hands, “[160 Chambers] was converted to commercial use in 1967, and since the mid-1980s the building has had commercial use at the ground story with residential units above.” StreetEasy gives us a peek inside some of these million-dollar apartments.

The current commercial tenant is a beauty spa. But isn’t it wonderful that the word “engine” flanked by two 29s still exists above what was once a fire engine exit?

[Third image: New York Times 1853; fourth photo: Medical Center Archives of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell via Tribeca Trib]

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13 Responses to “The lives of a former Chambers Street firehouse”

  1. Shayne Davidson Says:

    From rags to riches and everything in between!

  2. Carl Reddick Says:

    Have you ever done a piece on the ‘green lanterns’ at old police stations? Is that where the superhero Green Lantern came from ?
    Love your writing!

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you! I have covered the green lanterns; it’s one of my favorite posts and also a very popular one with readers:

    https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/why-police-precincts-have-green-lanterns-outside/

  4. Kate Says:

    I don’t live in New York. Let me start by saying I don’t mean to be offensive, I’m just curious. While the history of this building is fascinating (love to see the inside), it, and the surrounding buildings, is terribly dirty and run down looking. Does one apartment in it actually cost $1million?!? Thanks. The country bumpkin.

    • Zoé Says:

      They don’t look at all “run down” to me Kate. They look old. NYC is full of very old buildings vs being a futuristic metropolis that some people from other places expect.

      As far as I know real estate prices are not based on building age.

      And these are not the oldest. See some of Ephemeral’s other great posts for those!

      • Kate Says:

        It’s not the age of the building I’m talking about. I love 18th & 19th century buildings. It looks filthy and dilapidated. The neighboring buildings are worse. I’m sure there are a lot in NY that look much better. I’ve seen plenty of pics on the CurbedNY site of equally old buildings that are much nicer looking and priced similarly. Maybe I worded my question poorly. I guess I’m wondering why that building would be worth that price (if you know). $1million seems a lot to pay for such a run down looking place. For that much money is a little upkeep too much to ask from the building owner?

    • Besimple Says:

      It’s wabi sabi.

  5. Zoé Says:

    Couldn’t see the inside of the apartments w/ that link 😔

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Hi Kate, while this part of Chambers Street does have a worn-in feel, I can tell you that the buildings are in good shape for Lower Manhattan, and an apartment in any of them that’s more than a 1 bedroom would hover in the $1 million range. That’s NYC real estate for you!

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    A lot of people with money in NYC like to pretend they’re still slumming it, so they don’t mind if the outside of the building looks worn. But inside, I’m sure it’s in great shape.

  8. Kate Says:

    Thanks! I’d love to see the inside of the building. Maybe a unit will come up for sale soon with lots of pics:-))

  9. David H Lippman Says:

    Glad they kept up the history.

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