Posts Tagged ‘Fire escape laws’

Ordinary fire escapes—or romantic balconies?

March 22, 2010

Used for everything from storage to urban gardening to hanging laundry to sleeping, fire escapes have been mandated on New York City buildings since 1867.

And while the typical design features a plain iron railing stretching the length of two apartment windows, some are more enchanting.

Like these spiral fire escapes on the facade of the circa-1880 Murray Hill Hotel, which once stood on Park Avenue and East 40th Street. Berenice Abbott took the photo in 1935.

They’re more like romantic balconies than functional building architecture.

These Lower East Side tenements are also adorned with romantic fire escapes—single window balconies with whimsical iron ornamentation. Rickety and rusty, probably. But also very charming.

The mysterious plaque affixed to fire escapes

August 19, 2009

An Ephemeral reader sent in this photo of the plaque on her fire escape. It carries a stern warning: “Notice: Any one placing any ? ? on this balcony will be fined ten dollars.” 

I once lived in an old walkup with a fire escape with the same plaque, and I’ve seen them in other apartments as well. 


According to a 1905 guide the reader dug up called Birdseye’s Revised Statutes, Codes and General Laws of the State of New York, all fire escape balconies had to sport this plate, which is supposed to read “Any one placing any encumbrance on this balcony shall be fined ten dollars.”

Does anyone know if this law was inspired by a specific tragedy? Residents back then, crammed into small apartments, must have routinely stored stuff on their fire escapes. The result: They couldn’t get out during a fire—and firefighters couldn’t get in to save them.