December 26, 2013

Firehouse Restaurants Coast to Coast

  • By: Lauren Walser
Engine Co. No. 28 Exterior, Los Angeles

photo by: Engine Co. No. 28

Engine Co. No. 28, Los Angeles

You'll read about three old firehouses-turned-restaurants in our Winter 2014 issue -- Sixth Engine in Washington, D.C., Hose 22 Firehouse Grill in Rochester, N.Y., and Chicago Firehouse in Chicago. But there are so many more. We scoured the country coast to coast to find some other amazing firehouse renovation projects offering diners top-notch meals with a smoking side of history.

Engine Co. No. 28 Interior, Los Angeles

photo by: Engine Co. No. 28

Engine Co. No. 28, Los Angeles

Engine Co. No. 28

644 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90017
$$$ | American

The fire alarm first sounded inside Los Angeles’ Engine Co. No. 28 on July 23, 1913. Built a year earlier, the reinforced concrete structure was one of the costliest stations in Los Angeles at the time at $60,000.

But in the 1960s, the station closed. It sat vacant until 1986, when a five-year preservation project was launched, and the three-story brick structure was turned into space for an elegant restaurant, theater organization, and offices. In 1988, the city declared the building a historic-cultural landmark.

The exterior facade was meticulously preserved: Its dual arches, out of which fire trucks would race to answer a call, along with Renaissance Revival window bays and terra cotta details of firemen’s tools and the seal of the City of Los Angeles are still intact. And inside, diners sit among the original architectural details like the wood and concrete floors, pressed tin ceilings, and the mahogany cabinetry that once held the alarm system.

The original brass fire pole is still there, and diners can order drinks from the handsome mahogany bar before sliding into the intimate booths to enjoy dishes like braised lamb shank, devil shrimp, rigatoni, and gumbo.

The Firehouse Restaurant, Sacramento, Calif.

photo by: Kyle Cronin

The Firehouse Restaurant, Sacramento, Calif.

The Firehouse Restaurant

1112 2nd St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
$$$$ | American/Californian

The first fire department in California was organized in Sacramento in 1850. In 1853, a new brick firehouse was built along the city’s waterfront for Engine Company No. 3. Abandoned in 1921 and sold two years later, the building went through a number of different owners throughout the decades until 1959, when a visionary named Newton Cope purchased the structure and turned it into a bar and restaurant.

Opened in 1960, the new restaurant heralded a shift in the capital city’s long-deteriorating Old Sacramento historic district. In fact, Ronald Reagan held both his inaugural dinners there.

Today, diners enjoy menu items like duck confit hash, filet mignon, pork chop cassoulet, and oysters on the half shell inside the landmarked building or outside in its elegant courtyard. The wine list, with 80-some pages of options, is a big draw to this award-winning eatery, and the original fire pole and brick walls add to the ambiance.

Firehouse Restaurant Exterior, Portland, Ore.

photo by: MookieLuv, Flickr

Firehouse Restaurant, Portland, Ore.

Firehouse Restaurant Sign, Portland, Ore.

photo by: MookieLuv, Flickr

Firehouse Restaurant, Portland, Ore.

Firehouse Restaurant

711 NE Dekum St.
Portland, OR 97211
$$ | Italian/American

Sustainability is a big part of this Portland, Ore., firehouse-turned-restaurant, and you can see it both in the menu, which features sustainable meats and fish as well as seasonal produce (much of which is grown in the restaurant’s garden), and the painstaking renovation initiated by owners Matthew and Elizabeth Busetto.

After seeing the old Dekum Firehouse for sale on Craigslist in 2007, the couple purchased the local icon and set to work returning it to its original glory. They tore out the plaster and drywall and acoustic ceilings to reveal the original brick walls, old beams, and concrete floors. Reclaimed wood was used to create a bar, tables, and benches, and was finished with nontoxic linseed oil. A drought-resistant garden was created and a new drainage system installed.

Opened in 2008, the restaurant was the latest chapter in the storied Firehouse 29 building. The Italian Renaissance structure was built in the early 1900s, and for years, the fireman lived upstairs, while the fire horses were stabled downstairs. The building was decommissioned in the 1950s and went on to serve as a Salvation Army boy’s club, and later, as a front for a fencing operation, where stolen goods were stowed in the basement for processing.

Today, instead of horses and fire hoses, the Firehouse 29 building houses a large wood-fired oven, rotisserie, and grill, where dishes like Firehouse meatballs, wood-grilled hanger steaks, and pizzas are enjoyed with a large glass of wine.

Historical Firehouse Café
1824 4th Ave.
Hutchinson, KS 67501
$ | American

Breakfast is served all day at this downtown Hutchinson, Kan., eatery, but with a long list of signature Firehouse Hot Dogs and classic dishes like chicken fried steak, chili, and pork tenderloin sandwiches, lunch just as tempting.

What was originally the town’s Fire Station No. 4 re-opened as a diner back in January 2010 under owner Bobbie Sauer, who was eager to add a non-chain restaurant to the town’s dining options. Everything on the menu is homemade, and many of the firehouse’s architectural details have been preserved, down to the original fire pole and exposed brick walls.

Firehouse Grill, Evanston, Ill.

photo by: Firehouse Grill

Firehouse Grille, Evanston, Ill.

Firehouse Grill

750 Chicago Ave.
Evanston, IL 60202
$ | American

This restored c. 1902 Station 2 firehouse in Evanston, Ill., is a favorite among Northwestern University students and local families alike. The fire station served the community until it closed in 1955, when a new station was built about 100 feet away. It then functioned as a Studebaker showroom for a local auto dealer for a couple decades, then as a series of Mexican restaurants, until 1999, when a couple of intrepid entrepreneurs bought and renovated the space, opening a new restaurant one year later.

Today, pressed tin ceilings, hardwood floors, and old pictures of firefighters provide a historic atmosphere, while the impressive beer list, pulled pork sandwiches, chili, and Firehouse Burgers keep the dining area packed. The upstairs spaces offer games of pool, foosball, and shuffleboard.

Fire House Restaurant, Harrisburg, Pa.

photo by: Steve Burt, Flickr

Fire House Restaurant, Harrisburg, Pa.

Fire House Restaurant

606 North 2nd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17101
$$$ | American

After a fire ravaged part of Harrisburg, Pa., on Christmas Eve 1813, the city established the Harrisburg Hope Fire Company the following year. Hope Station #2 was built in 1871, and though the Italianate Revival structure hasn’t housed the city’s fire department since 1980, it remains the oldest standing firehouse in the city and the second oldest in the state.

Today, Hope Station #2 is an award-winning restaurant -- serving dishes like prime rib, sausage- and spinach-stuffed cannelloni, crab cakes, and chicken marsala -- with plenty of its original firehouse features. The exterior brickwork and arched windows, along with its original sashings, window muntins and mullions, and doors were all saved during the building’s restoration.

Jack's Firehouse, Philadelphia, Pa.

photo by: Deafmute, Flickr

Jack's Firehouse, Philadelphia, Pa.

Jack’s Firehouse

2130 Fairmount Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
$$ | American/Southern

The 19th-century firehouse that was once home to the Truck “A” fire company (now called Ladder Company 1) in Philadelphia is, today, a favorite neighborhood eatery celebrating more than two decades of business.

Though it’s been well over 60 years since the fire alarms rang in this Fairmount Avenue establishment, it’s not difficult to imagine the 12 original firemen of Truck “A” sliding down the pole toward the Gardner & Fleming carriage and four-wheeled hose carriage, and grabbing their picks and axes to fight a nearby blaze.

The current owners, who are big supporters of local farmers and focus on serving fresh ingredients, have kept many of the building’s original architectural details, like the mahogany woodwork, wood plank floors, doors, and the brass fire pole, lending the space a distinct historic ambiance. And while there are plenty of treats for the eyes, diners can also feast on menu items like Cajun butter basted grilled shrimp, pecan coated catfish, and cherry wood smoked beef brisket.

Two Steps Downtown Grille, Danbury, Conn.

photo by: Two Steps Downtown Grille

Two Steps Downtown Grille, Danbury, Conn.

Two Steps Downtown Grille

5 Ives St.
Danbury, CT 06810
$$ | American/Eclectic

With items like ribs, chops, steaks, and burgers on the menu, the food is a big draw to Two Steps Downtown Grille, the 20-plus-year-old restaurant housed in a late-1800s Danbury, Conn., firehouse. But so is the full fire engine bolted to the second-floor ceiling. People stop by the restaurant just to examine the shell of the old engine, says owner Tom Devine, who moved into the building in the 1980s.

The engine is just one of many exciting visual elements to the restaurant, which also boasts souvenirs from the Danbury state fairs and original exposed brick walls, doors, and stained glass windows. And what was once the bunk room on the second floor is now a private dining area. Diners can sit inside the Victorian-era firehouse, but during the warmer months, they flock to the front and back patios. Cooking classes and wine tasting are other draws to this local establishment.

$ = Value, $10–19; $$ = Moderate, $20–29; $$$ = Fancy, $30–39; $$$$ = Splurge, $40

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

Now accepting nominations for the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places! Letters of Intent are due September 29, 2023.

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