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Thread: The Fire Escape, Both Lowly and Glamorous

  1. #1
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default The Fire Escape, Both Lowly and Glamorous

    January 25, 2009
    The City Visible

    Great Escapes


    OFFICIALLY, of course, the urban fire escape is primarily an emergency exit, but in New York, this prosaic adornment of countless five- and six-story apartment houses has assumed myriad other functions: faux backyards, platforms for criminal getaways, oases for marginalized smokers and makeshift bedrooms popular during an age before air-conditioning.

    And they are often visual knockouts, too. Strikingly designed fire escapes have complemented some of the city’s grandest structures, like the Puck Building on Lafayette Street, and enhanced even the dreariest structures.

    First built in New York well over a century ago, mandated by the 1867 tenement law, fire escapes soon became a canvas for the virtuosity of local foundry workers, including recently arrived European immigrants.

    Throughout the city, these artisans created ornate objets d’art constructed and molded from wrought and cast iron. The designs that resulted present a decorative smorgasbord, and include such rich details as arabesques, filigree lacework and rosettes.

    Aesthetics, though, are only skin deep. In the case of the Lower East Side in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the fire escape ornamentation on scores of tenement blocks hardly masked the poverty within. Notable photographers like Weegee took pictures of fire escapes to help demonstrate both the hurly-burly and inhumanity of immigrant life. Even the film version of the musical “West Side Story,” a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” in Hell’s Kitchen, substituted a fire escape on a cheerless tenement for the Shakespearean balcony in the famous love scene.

    Although many of the fire escapes built during New York’s second wave of immigration still exist, these well-worn structures have been lamentably overlooked. Even the venerable Encyclopedia of New York City neglects to give them a separate entry. Perhaps it’s time for New Yorkers to give these old cultural symbols a second look.

  2. #2
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    More than one of those ^ I see almost every day ...

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  4. #4
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    Soho Residents Not Thrilled About Losing Fire Escapes

    March 19, 2015, by Jeremiah Budin

    A Soho landlord's plan to remove the external fire escapes from two landmarked buildings at 69 and 71-73 Greene Street has the tenants of those buildings nervous, possibly setting the stage for a Landmarks Preservation Commission battle when the plans are presented next week. The architect, Joseph Pell Lombardi, claims that the removal of the fire escapes "actually is a positive thing in terms of fire safety, because while we're taking down the fire escapes, we are installing a deluge system of sprinklers." But residents are not convinced, in large part because building's staircases, though four feet wide and exceeding the city's fire egress requirement, are "steep, uneven, [and] the steps are bowed and warped." They are also made of wood.

    In addition to the safety debate the building owner and tenants are also in disagreement over whether the fire escapes contribute the historic character. Though they are not original, they have existed on the buildings since at least the 1940s and "absolutely define the sense of the place," according to one tenant. Pell takes the opposite stance, saying that, "The original cast iron buildings are compromised by these late addition fire escapes. The owner feels very strongly, and we agree, that they detract from the building." All this and more will be hashed out when the plans are presented to the Landmarks Commission next Tuesday.

    Residents Fear Developer's Plan to Remove Greene Street Fire Escapes [DNAinfo]

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