Sometimes a firehouse is not just a firehouse. Embedded in the faded edifice and crumbling mortar, the dirty steel insignia and graffittied red garage door lives the legacy of an entire community: a legacy of activism, advocacy and the collective struggle to preserve a sense of neighborhood unity in a city of constant flux. After more than sixteen months of fighting for the rights to the abandoned firehouse—which closed for good in 1975—People’s Firehouse Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1977, and on Friday evening the elected officials, community members and neighborhood activists who have fought so hard to preserve the structure gathered outside of it to celebrate the first installment of seed money—generously donated by CitiStorage’s Norm and Elaine Brodsky and Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery—to go towards turning the beloved firehouse into the Town Hall Community and Cultural Center.
“This is truly a landmark,” said Norm Brodsky, who has been a steadfast part of the fight since the very beginning. “It represents community, perseverance and dedication. We have supported it through the picket lines and protests—it is truly a rallying point for the community. And in a city that is constantly being built up, this is something people will remember 100 years from now.”
Brodsky continued, “Having built a business myself, brick by brick over the years, I understand the commitment that both Town Hall founding members, the People’s Firehouse, Inc. and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth have made over the last 30 years to the community,” Brodsky said. “The Engine Company 212 building is a well-deserved home to these community groups, and will be a tribute to our neighborhood for years to come.”
The Brodskys presented a check for $38,000—while Brooklyn Brewery contributed an additional $5,000—to representatives from the Northside Town Hall Community Center’s newly formed Board of Directors, including CB1 member Del Teague, the chair of the board and Felice Kirby, who acts as vice chair. Friday’s presentation marked the beginning of a $2 million capital campaign to make the Town Hall Community Center into a reality, to be used as a multi-purpose space for neighborhood organizations to hold meetings, artists to practice their craft and special events to be coordinated and executed.
“Anyone who has lived in this neighborhood for as long as I have, and I’ve been here for thirty years now, know each other, care about each other, are concerned with one another,” Teague said. “People have gotten involved, and people really, really care.”
Though the process to secure the firehouse has been long and harrowing, last May the New York City Economic Development Corporation selected Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and the People’s Firehouse, Inc. to redevelop the structure. After raising the necessary initial $100,000 in seed funds, the two groups will now embark on fundraising for the capital campaign.
Among the elected officials present was Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who was integral in securing the rights to the site from HPD, and has rallied in favor of the People’s Firehouse for many years. Lentol expressed his disappointment in the closing of the firehouse, but his excitement and support for the forthcoming Town Hall Community and Cultural Center.
“I feel bittersweet today,” Lentol said, addressing the crowd. “I love this firehouse, and we wanted it to stay a firehouse. But, today is also a happy occasion. This Town Hall will be a real entity that will do many wonderful things for this community. I am proud to stand with you as your assemblyman, because we have really shown what we’re made of on the Northside.”
Also in attendance was Councilmember Diana Reyna, who reiterated everyone’s appreciation for the generous donations from Hindy and the Brodskys.
“Brodsky and Hindy are names that will live on as legacies of tomorrow,” Reyna said. “Working together to accomplish a community goal resounds in this community, and we now know that this firehouse will live on and on.”
Other attendees included representatives from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Senator Martin Dilan, Councilmember David Yassky and Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz.
“There are four members of the board here tonight, two from People’s Firehouse and two from NAG,” Kirby said proudly, rounding out the short ceremony. “Rather than laying down and dying, we are all here together, to build something new.”