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Sea Cliff launches $700,000 renovation of 1930s firehouse

Sea Cliff is using $700,000 in state and village funds to restore its 86-year-old firehouse, which is on the national, state and local registries of historic places. The project, which started last month, is scheduled to finish Dec. 1.  Credit: Newsday / David Olson

The Sea Cliff firehouse is a glimpse of firefighting’s past.

The bell that decades ago was used to summon volunteer firefighters to duty still rings. The old wooden doors to the four bays still open by tugs on a rope.

But some of the original steel window frames on the 86-year-old building had separated from the masonry, causing rainwater and cold air to enter. Hinges were so rusty that some windows would not open or close. Window panes were loosening.

In response, Sea Cliff launched what officials say is the largest renovation in the firehouse’s history. The $700,000 project, about three-fourths of which is funded by the state and the rest by the village, started last month and is scheduled to finish Dec. 1.

The 12,259-square-foot firehouse on Roslyn Avenue will look the same after the renovation is complete, said Erinn McDonnell, the village’s grants administrator, who applied for the state grants.

The historic feel of Sea Cliff “is part of why people come here to visit and to live here,” McDonnell said.

“A step back in time,” said village administrator Bruce Kennedy. “Sea Cliff is viewed as a historic community.”

The brick, Tudor Revival-style firehouse was inaugurated in 1932. It is on national, state and local registries of historic places.

The bell tower and the roughly 130 windows are among the most distinct features.

“The windows are an integral part of the facade,” said McDonnell, whose great-grandfather, Otto E. Kaufmann, was on the fire council when the firehouse was built.

The village initially planned to replace the window frames with prefabricated ones that are similar. But state officials said that because of the firehouse’s historic status, the village either must restore the original frames or order custom-made replicas, McDonnell said. The village is sending the windows to a Peekskill company specializing in restoring historic windows. All glass is being replaced.

At the firehouse, Kennedy put his fingers through the space between a soon-to-be-removed exterior subframe and the concrete of the wall to illustrate how cold air blew into the firehouse in the winter and hot air in the summer, causing high heating and air conditioning bills. Temperature control is important for  the medicine in ambulances as well as the comfort of firefighters.

The windows are covered with plain plywood during restoration but McDonnell asked local artist James Roth — a recent graduate of North Shore High School — to paint five of the most prominent ones, which are on the front and side of the firehouse.

Another major part of the restoration and modernization is overhauling the entire electrical system, including installing modern circuit breakers to replace glass fuses.

Firehouse history

1883 — Village of Sea Cliff is incorporated

1884 — Sea Cliff Fire Department is founded

1895 — Sea Cliff's first mayor, Frederick W. Geissenhainer, deeds the firehouse property to the city and two wooden structures are built to house the fire department

1931 — Voters approve a proposal to build the current firehouse for $70,000. Construction begins.

1932 — The firehouse is dedicated and a time capsule is placed in its cornerstone

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