stalls. So great was the uproar that the fire commissioners of
day denied they had had anything to do with the station , even
though they approved its plans.
should see it now. Old Station 23, closed and abandoned
almost 22 years ago, has fallen on hard times, much like the
derelicts who inhabit the Skid Row district of downtown Los
Angeles where the building is located.
after it closed in 1960, F.S. 23 became a hangout for the street
people; trash piled up at the front and back doors.
Eventually, looters took away most of the copper tubing and
brass work, banisters, door-knobs, firebells. Even
the five huge brass firepoles disappeared.
In 1974, the city's Department of
Public Works declared the building an earthquake hazard because
of its "unreinforced brick" construction, and wanted
to tear it down. It was later determined that Public Works
had made a mistake. F.S. 23 actually is made of reinforced
concrete, one of the earliest structures in the city to be so
Public Works people still wanted to tear it down, but the Fire Department
balked. It should be a museum, fire officials and
commissioners said, and set about to make it so. But that,
it turnouts, is easier said than accomplished.
On June 26, 1979, the City Council, urged on by Councilman
Gilbert Lindsay, in whose district F.S. 23 is situated, put
Station 23 under the jurisdiction of the Fire Department in
order that it might be restored as a museum "at no cost to
Since then, Fire Station 23 has been in limbo. No money, no
museum. But at the first fund-raising activity recently, a
beer blast on the first floor of the old station, F.S. 23 got
its first large contribution, $20,000.
"We're really pleased," said Chief Johnson, who is
coordinating the museum effort. "We have about
$25,000 now. It's not a lot, but it's a beginning.
You have to take a long-term view, but not that long. Five
years form now it will be a brand new building."
In June, 1981, Fire Department officials
formally set up Olde 23's, a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation
to save the historic building. Fire Commissioner John
Lawson is president; Chief Engineer John Gerard, vice president
and Johnson, secretary-treasurer, of Olde 23's board of
governors. They are currently seeking 12 additional board
members from the private sector.
"We should have the board completed in two months,"
Johnson said. "We're looking for people in the
community who have funding ability, organizational ability,
interest in fire service. We'll also have a volunteer fire
brigade of people who want to assist the museum."
Johnson estimates the restoration will cost in the
"ballpark of $1 million. We don't have an actual
figure yet, but we'll be starting an engineering study
Critics of the plan to restore station 23 have questioned the
validity of putting in a museum in the middle of Skid Row, but
Johnson pooh-poohs their comments. "This whole area
is scheduled for redevelopment," he said, referring to the downtown
plan of the Community Redevelopment Agency. "Down the
read it won't look like this."
Some people have asked why the Fire Department didn't choose
Station 28, at Figueroa and 7th Street for its museum
site. "It just doesn't have the historical
significance of 23," Johnson said. Fire Station 28
was bought by a private firm. Johnson said he believes
that there are plans to turn it into a restaurant.
"You have to remember," Johnson explained, "that
23 actually was the headquarters of the Fire Department at one
station 23 did serve as headquarters between 1910 and 1920, but
that is not its total historic value. In 1920, it became
the only city fire station to house a woman.
Converted Third Floor
When Chief Engineer Ralph J. Scott married
Addie Haas, the couple converted the third floor into a
suite. The front room, a showplace complete with
leatherette walls, mahogany paneling and molding and a marble
fireplace, used for department and commission meetings, became
their living room. A back bedroom, utilized previously by
visiting fire chiefs, was made into a kitchen. Scott moved
headquarters to the station at Hill and 2nd streets. It
recently was torn down to make way for the Bunker Hill
Scotts lived at Fire Station 23 until 1927, when they built a
home in the Los Feliz Hills.
Addie Scott, now 90, is assisting Olde 23's as a volunteer
historian, helping with details on what the interior of the building
Fire Department, according to Gerald Johnson, has no pictures of
the two upper floors of F.S. 23, and will depend on Mrs. Scott's
memory in the restoration. There are photos of the
exterior of the building and of the first floor, one showing
firemen getting horses ready for a fire call.
Scott has visited F.S. 23 twice in recent weeks, and will, with
Chief Engineer Gerard, videotape a walking tour of the station
"It wasn't Skid Row when we lived here," said Mrs.
Scott. "It will take a great deal of work, but it can
be done. It's an awfully big job, though."
Addie Scott hadn't seen Fire Station 23 for many years, and when she
toured it recently, she said she wanted to cry.
"It makes me sad to see what shape it's in," she
said. "So many things are gone. The front room
looks about like it used to, only I had curtains that went to the
floor, not the windowsill."
The front room and main bedroom of the Scotts' suite have been
refurbished in the past few years by artist James Croak, who has
been living there since 1978. Croak, also a licensed contractor,
originally applied to the Board of Public Works to rent F.S. 23 on
the agreement that he would begin restoration. He now
rents from the Fire Department and has stopped his restoration works
since plans for the museum were formalized.
I'm the Fire Department's only tenant,"
Croak said during a showing of the building. "When I came
here the building had been empty for 18 years and the garbage was
piled high. It was an open door hotel."
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