The new west-side fire station that opened in January 1909 was the first permanent building to be built and owned by the city of Cedar Rapids. Every other structure had been built by private businesses.
It still stands on the odd triangular lot where E Avenue, C Avenue and Fifth Street NW intersect.
At the time the new fire station was being planned, city officials warned the public treasury was “pretty lean,” and plans might have to be scaled back, but the “plan of the committee will work out.” It had to. The old west-side station at First Street and Third Avenue was in such bad shape its occupants feared it “would fall down every time the wind blew a little harder than usual.”
The new west side station cost $5,000 to build, according to a 1908 accounting of city finances.
As the new year rolled around, the dim picture of the Fire Department’s financial condition had improved substantially.
“The department is on a better footing, has more men and better equipment than ever before,” the 1909 report stated, with enough money to complete the new station and put the firefighting apparatus “in the best possible condition.”
In addition to the new station, the department also could afford six new horses, “making it the best equipped in the way of horses of any city in the state.”
‘pleasing to eye’
The new station’s exterior “is pleasing to the eye,” the Jan. 10, 1909, Evening Gazette reported.
“The walls are of vitrified Boone brick, burned to a pleasing dark red color, giving a rather attractive rustic effect, and the walls have been treated with an acid and then oiled so as to bring out the most desirable tone.
“The roof is of shingles, stained green. The windows and the trimmings are all white. …
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“The rear is almost as pleasing as the front. If you were seeing it for the first time, you might hastily form the conclusion that it was the front.”
The crew at the new station was Capt. James Horan, R.J. Powers, W.F. Vrba, J.J. McLaughlin and F.F. McDermott.
“Instead of having the poorest quarters in the city, the west-side firemen will now have the best,” The Gazette noted.
The station’s location also corrected the bad intersection at E Avenue and Fifth Street NW. The street was straightened and a small park with shrubs and flowers was added at the front and rear of the fire station.
Stalls for the horses that pulled the fire engines were on the first floor, at the rear of the station. The stalls had cement floors and plank decking that could be stood on end so the stalls could be flushed out into a floor drain.
Waste from the stalls went into a brick bin at the rear of the building.
The stalls were kept between 45 and 50 degrees for the horses’ comfort.
Food for the horses was sent down chutes from the upper floor, one for straw, one for hay and one for oats. The food bins were lined with tin to keep out vermin.
The first floor had a steel ceiling, and hayracks for the horses were made of steel as well. A device connected to the racks slowly folded them next to the wall as they were emptied.
A small room behind the stairway on the first floor had a work bench and could be used for exercise, or as an extra stall for the horses.
The station, which had hot and cold running water, was heated by steam, with a boiler in the basement.
A brick tower ran from the basement to the top of the building, where up to a thousand feet of fire hoses could be hung and dried.
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The second floor had a large dormitory with maple floors and large windows. The firemen climbed stairs to get to the living area but left by sliding down two brass poles.
When an alarm was sounded, an automatic switch turned on the lights, and the front doors and the doors in front of the horses opened automatically.
The station had a large linen closet, a bathroom with a shower and a gas water heater.
The horses were replaced with a fire engine in the 1920s.
In 1973, the city considered replacing the station, either through a bond vote or revenue sharing. But it remained in service until 1985 when the new Central Fire Station opened at Third Street and B Avenue NW.
Mayor Donald Canney headed a committee that considered turning the old station into a firefighting museum.
In 1993, a federal grant to Five Seasons Transportation included $120,000 to renovate the old station as storage for the city bus department.
After the 2008 flood, the station was put on a list of commercial buildings being considered for possible relocation. But in 2013, the city asked for proposals to renovate the old station, noting it was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building was sold and refurbished. It now houses the Head-2-Toe Hair Salon and Barber Shop on the lower level and has an apartment upstairs.
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