Firehouse renovations near completion

by Diane Fiske
Posted 12/11/20

Cecil Baker, the principal of architectural firm Cecil Baker + Partners, said in a phone interview last week he is happy with the progress of the firehouse, Engine 37, addition construction.

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Firehouse renovations near completion

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Cecil Baker, the principal of the internationally known architectural firm Cecil Baker + Partners, which is based in Philadelphia, said in a phone interview last week he is happy with the progress of the firehouse, Engine 37, addition construction.

“We were looking to replicate the symmetry of the historical Fire Station and allude, albeit in contemporary vernacular, to the very thoughtful detailing of John T. Windrim’s design of the original Fire Station,” he said.

Baker had been asked about the goals his firm set in designing the Chestnut Hill firehouse addition, which is finally reaching its completion this month.

Undeterred by this year’s weighty obstacles, Baker was referring to the almost cube-shaped addition to the 125 year-old firehouse at 101 W. Highland Ave., which his firm began designing about three years ago. It was followed by a groundbreaking in July, 2019.

The one-story, 3,408 square-foot addition, and a renovation of the original 8,708 square foot Wissahickon and sandstone original firehouse, will cost about $9 million and will add space for larger engines. The newer building will be connected to the original one by a glass walkway.  The older building will serve as a service area for the four firefighters including sleeping, eating, and training facilities.

Before the construction began, the original “Richardson Romanesque Style” structure was given recognition as a historic structure by the Philadelphia Historic Commission in 2015. At that point it was stipulated that the original firehouse could not be modified or altered in any way.

The original firehouse with overhead bay doors was designed in 1893 by John Windrim before he designed the Franklin Institute.  That the larger modern fire engines don’t fit into the space provided by the overhead doors of the original firehouse is a feature overcome with the addition’s swing doors.

Lawrence McEwen, an architect who is co-chair of the local Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee in Chestnut Hill, said he was pleased with the progress of the construction of the firehouse addition as well as the renovation of the original building.

“It is exactly what we envisioned,” he said on behalf of his fellow committee members.

McEwen also said complaints that the doors of the addition will be a dark-brownish Tuscan red, as opposed to the bright red doors of the original firehouse, are not supported by history. “This darker color is the original color and eventually the doors will all match,” McEwen said.

Other changes in the addition from the design of the firehouse include the fact that the doors of the addition will be folding doors.

“We have found that the folding doors have less maintenance than the overhead ones," he said. “I think the deep Tuscan color will look nice with the stone.”

McEwen added about his committee's reaction: “this is pretty much what we wanted”. He added, the cast stone doesn’t always have the variation you have with natural stone.

He looked at the construction of the addition and said the materials provide a “juxtaposition” to the original 124-year-old building. The addition’s precast stone, as opposed to the Wissahickon Schist, is monochromatic but it may change.

McEwen said of the glass cubes on the west side of the new building, “The translucent fiberglass allows a lot of light and diffused kind of light that I have used on buildings I have designed.”

He pointed to carved columns in the new building, which he said copy a theme in panels in the original building.

According to Nancy Bastian, an architect in the Baker firm, the addition's materials are terra cotta tile and cast stone.

She said there will be grassy walkways on the property and, as result of the Percent for Art Program, a concrete bench, designed by two local artists will be installed in front of the new firehouse when it is completed. The artists who designed the bench are Jill Sablosky and Erica Ehrenbard.

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