The pending sale of Old Fire Station No. 7 to restaurateur Andrew Goodman, owner of Feast Restaurant, has me in a nostalgic mood. The vacant 1924 Mission Revival building stands sentinel at the northern entrance to Southtown at 604 S. Alamo St.
Goodman, who has plans with Feast Chef Stefan Bowers to open a new restaurant in the former fire station, submitted the winning sealed bid of $850,007 in the City's cash-only sale of the surplus property. Up to $150,000 of that sum will be transferred from the City to the San Antonio Fire Museum as a matching funds donation as part of the sale agreement. The "retired" two-story fire station with basement is 5,315 sq. ft. and was appraised at $779,000. Its historic value and prime gateway position made its sale the subject of wide interest and speculation.
The Historic Review and Design Commission will consider Goodman's conceptual design and application to add an elevator to the building on Wednesday and the recommended sale itself goes to City Council for approval on Thursday.
Before the construction of Hemisfair Park and Cesar Chavez Boulevard, the station was known as The Rock. In an era when many dwellings were constructed of wood and building fires were far more common and a serious threat to surrounding edifices, The Rock and the men who worked there must have been a vital part of daily life in Lavaca, the city's oldest residential neighborhood.
The same property at South Alamo and Water streets housed the Mission Hose Company #4 starting in 1885, when horse-drawn water wagons manned by volunteers answered the call. The City's change to a ward system led to its renaming as the Seventh Ward Hose Company in 1898.
Click here to read more of the fire station's history courtesy of the King William Association. Amy Johnson, who is married to a firefighter, wrote a separate article for the KWA that claimed Old Fire Station No. 7 is said to have been the longest-serving fire station in the country before it closed in 2007. The ghosts of old firefighters still haunt the building, she wrote.
I wish I could summon those ghosts to talk about two different fires, one in 1937 and the other on Christmas Eve, 1978, that occurred at 310 East Arsenal St., which this month will become my family's home.
I am still researching the property, but the fires would have drawn a response from Fire Station No. 7 and Fire Station No. 12, located at 1102 S. Flores St., that is now residential lofts. No. 7 was 6/10 of a mile from the East Arsenal property, while No. 12 was a 1/2 mile distant via a more direct route. Both fires were significant and would have drawn firemen – and they were all male in those days – from both stations.
Retired firefighter Hector Cardenas, who once worked out of No. 7, now handles media relations for the San Antonio Fire Museum. He is searching for the station logs that included those fires' reports, but I am not optimistic.
"Unfortunately, the department's historic logs were poorly stored in a basement downtown and 70 percent of them were destroyed by floodwaters in the '90s," Cardenas said. That's a huge loss for anyone with a love for this city and its history.
We bought the property, an oversized empty lot, several years ago. The historic 50' x 150' lot was extended by 50' during Prohibition when the Italian-German family living there purchased some of the neighbor's property and used the land to plant grape vines to make their own wine. The vineyard rows were still evident when we bought the property. An elderly neighbor told us she recalled as a young girl watching a woman harvest the wine grapes.
Our oldest son, Nicolas, designed a main house and a small back house, which is now listed as 312 E. Arsenal St. and accessed through the alley that connects West Sheridan and East Arsenal streets between City Street and South Main Avenue. The casita has been home for the last year to John and Hilde Maeckle, my wife Monika's parents, ages 93 and 82, respectively. The main house should be completed this month.
I am still searching for photographs of the 300 block of East Arsenal as it appeared in 1937 and again in 1978. The 19th century home on the property suffered significant damage on Aug. 15, 1937, when a kitchen fire spread throughout the first floor of the two-story home. Newspapers reported even minor fires in those days, and the reports always contained the fire investigator's damage estimate. Fires that caused $75-125 damage were common, but damage on East Arsenal was placed at $1,000.
Fire Chief J.G. Sarran, who held the post from 1923-39, might have answered the call, I imagine. He lived two miles away at 133 Dunning Ave. off South Presa Street. I do wonder how the call came in to No. 7 and No. 12. Did firemen see smoke rising from East Arsenal, or did an alert neighbor have a telephone to summon firefighters?
Neighbors don't remember a house on the property before World War II, but they agree a rooming house was built there later. That's the house that caught fire on Christmas Eve 1978. Newspaper accounts say a man fell asleep with a lighted cigarette in his upper-floor room. A single mother and her daughter living downstairs were burned out of their rooms, with all Christmas presents lost. Neighbors came together to give the little girl a makeshift Christmas. The lot then sat empty for 35 years.
Fire Stations No. 7 and No. 12 are part of the Southtown story now – one destined to become the newest dining hotspot, the other a place that people call home. Now 310 East Arsenal is coming back to life, too. The new owners hope to break the fire jinx.
*Featured/top image: The former Fire Station No. 7 at 604 S. Alamo St. May 13, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.