Fire Station 15, 2701 Johnson Street NE, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Fire Station 15

This is an undated photo of Station 29; it may have been taken sometime after construction in 1915. Photo from the book Mill City Firefighters by R. Heath.
Fire Station 15, present-day, photo taken in September 2014.
Address: 2701 Johnson Street NE
Neighborhood/s: Northeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota
City/locality-
State/province
Minneapolis, Minnesota
County-
State/province:
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1915
Additions: Addition of one-story structure (apparatus room) in 1964
Historic Function: Fire/police station
Current Function: Fire/police station
Architect or source of design: Christopher Boehme
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick
Material of Foundation: Brick

Northeast Minneapolis Hennepin County


Contents

History

Background on Firefighting in Minneapolis

     According to the publication Mill City Firefighters (Heath, 1981), firefighting in Minneapolis started with two volunteer groups, the Citizens of Saint Anthony, founded on the east side of the Mississippi River in 1847, and Minneapolis, founded on the west side in 1851. In 1879, the two groups were merged into the Minneapolis Fire Department. The towns were growing at a rapid rate, owing to the success of the lumber and milling industries. As a result, the volunteer firefighters faced an increasing demand from growing number of fires and the efforts required to fight them. Eventually, this was exacerbated by the Washburn “A” Mill explosion on May 2, 1878, causing the death of 18 workers and the collapse of several buildings in the area.

     In May 2, 1878, a considerable number of volunteer firefighters petitioned the City to relieve them of their duty, and on July 1, the City had to replace with paid force some 80 percent of the volunteers who elected to disband (Heath, 1981).

     The paid force was organized into “permanent” members working full time: the Chief, drivers, engineers, stokers, four out of eight foremen while all pipemen and laddermen served as “transient” members, who are required to be at the fire stations between 9 pm to 6 am, and on call during the day (Heath, 1981).


History of the Northeast Minneapolis Neighborhood

     The history of the Northeast neighborhood in Minneapolis could be best understood in the context of how the towns of Saint Anthony and Minneapolis towns evolved. As Kieley explained in her book Heart and Hard Work (1997), Saint Anthony and Minneapolis both attracted settlers from New England who were enticed by the booming lumber and milling industries in the 1850s. However, in the latter part of the decade, “mismanagement and economic crisis (Panic of 1857) paralyzed key Saint Anthony financial institutions and halted immigration in the area” (Kieley, 1997, p. 23). Additionally, it became evident that the parallel industries of lumber and milling in both Saint Anthony and Minneapolis were redundant and inefficient. “Because of the twin manufacturing districts, maintenance of the two separate but duplicate economies seemed a needless and wasteful draw on limited resources” (Kieley, 1997, p. 23).

     In 1872, Saint Anthony merged with Minneapolis, with the latter becoming the “East Side of Minneapolis.” The consolidated City continued to boom with the East Side significantly contributing to its commercial growth. In fact, in the 1880s, the East Side alone had three fire companies with 150 firefighters. In the 1890s, electric cars began to run on the East Side with lines on Central Avenue, Second Street, and Monroe Street. Division Street (later named East Hennepin Avenue) marked the boundary between Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis. In 1891, the Northeast neighborhood’s identity was marked with the publication of The Northeast Argus (Kieley, 1997).

     Several key developments defined the Northeast Neighborhood in the late 1800s: the expansion of the manufacturing and railroad industries, such as the Soo Line Railroad and its railyards, the incorporation of several companies into the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company (later renamed Grain Belt Brewery), and the development of residential and commercial centers lead by Henry B. Beard (Kieley, 1997).

     A residential center called “The Flats” was developed in the low-lying area of the Northeast. The Flats offered affordable housing to newly arriving immigrants, offering modest accommodations in two- or three-story rudimentary buildings. It was noted that Polish and other Slavic groups settled in The Flats. As immigrants became more established and had a steady income, their families tended to move northwards to Windom and Audubon Parks (Kieley, 1997).

     Based on the waves of immigration to the Northeast, distinct ethnic neighborhoods within the district developed. In the mid-1800s, the French, Scandinavian, Irish, German immigrants arrived in Saint Anthony, and in the late 1800s to early 1900s, Poles, Slovaks, and Ukrainians (from Carpathian Mountains bordering Poland and Czechoslovakia) settled in the Northeast. The immigration is said to have been pushed by factors such as overpopulation and poverty in the groups’ villages in Europe (Kieley, 1997).

     The industrial character of the Northeast was made colorful by the cultures, religious practices, and languages of the diverse groups that have immigrated to the area. “Divided by railroad tracks and industrial districts, Northeast eventually consisted of twenty to thirty distinct communities representing different cultures… Even today, families from the same European town often occupy the same block in Northeast Minneapolis” (Kieley, 1997, p. 29).


History of the Building

     The fire station located at the corner of 27th Avenue and Johnson Street Northeast was built in 1951 and was originally numbered Station 29 since it was home to Hose 29, which went into service in May 1916. The establishment on Station 29 is said to mark the close of the Minneapolis Fire Department expansion to respond to growing needs of expanding neighborhoods. Despite clamor from other neighborhoods continued, financial constraints prevented the establishment of new stations. All other stations were either replaced or relocated (Heath, 1981).

     Fire Station 29 was designed by CA Boehme Architects in August 1915 and was built using face brick, common brick, cut stone, wood, and concrete (NAA, Minneapolis Plan Vault Collection, N115, 1915). Based on a biographical article from the Northwest Architectural Archives, Christopher Boehme was born in Minneapolis on January 16, 1865. It may be argued that Christopher himself had a special connection with the Northeast neighborhood, where the fire station is located, since his father immigrated from Germany to Saint Anthony, and eventually became a builder, contractor, and merchant. Christopher took a special course in architecture at the University of Minnesota (the School of Architecture was only established in 1916), and subsequently worked for an architect, Warren Dunnell from 1882 to 1896. He established his own firm in 1896, and briefly had a partnership with Victor Cordella from 1903 to 1911. Boehme’s other works include St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Browerville and Our Lady of Lourdes in Little Falls, but his most famous accomplishment is the Swan Turnblad residence, which is now the American Swedish Institute at 2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis. He died in 1916, shortly after the fire station was constructed (NAA, Architects Research Files).


Reclassification as Fire Station 15

     In 1944, the repercussions of the Second World War in terms of financial and human resources were being felt domestically, especially through the public services offered by cities. “Available department manpower fell as many firemen enlisted in the armed services, as others took leaves to head military and defense plant fire departments, and as the military service drained the available pool of new recruits” (Heath, 1981, p. 151). Ironically, the City Council did not opt to recruit new firefighters because it deemed it inefficient to pay the costs for training and equipment for the new recruits, who would be eventually laid off (which would incur costs for pension, too) once the seasoned firefighters return from their military service (Heath, 1981).

     The City’s response to this crisis was to rationalize the fire department by “[reducing] authorized fire department strength from 502 to 475 men in 1944” (Health, 1981, p. 151). This resulted to closing Station 13 (Engine 24), Station 25 (Engine 25), and Station 29 (Engine 29). However, there was such strong opposition against the closing of Station 29 that it prompted the City to move Combination 15 to Station 29 and reopen it as Station 15 (Heath, 1981).


     In 1964, Fire Station 15 underwent several minor structural alterations. The modifications were carried out by Peterson, Clark, Griffith, Inc. It involved the addition of a one-story structure to the existing two-story fire station, effectively providing more space for the apparatus room, as well as the building of the Fire Station monument, which houses the old fire alarm bell used prior to the Fire Alarm Telegraph System and its more modern successor systems. Minor changes included the removal of hose doors in the basement and the second floor for the installation of new doors and frames, removal of existing windows for replacement with salvaged glazed brick on the ground floor north side as changes were made to accommodate the additional apparatus room, on the second floor, a new slide pole opening was installed. Toilet fixtures and the wooden floor on the second floor were likewise replaced. Generally, on the whole building, changes included installation of insulated windows, reinforcement of concrete and masonry.


Staffing at Fire Station 15

     Based on records from the published notebook of Adrian Huyck, former Payroll Supervisor of the Minneapolis Fire Department, an April 1955 payroll shows the following roster for Fire Station 15: Captains – George A. Kapala and Burton C. Compton; Wallace C. Ammend, Harley Berton, Donald F. Cable, Alfred R. Carlson, Emmett M. Carlson, John J. Feehan, Willard J. Hanley, Thomas L. Irving, Raymond F. Johnson, Roy Madore, George P. Messing, Douglas L. Noble, Frank A. Peszynski, Howard L. Peterson, Malcolm J. Ryan, Edward M. Schrader, Harry M. Turgeon, Ingwald A. Wiggen, totaling to 20 firemen (Huyck, 1992).

     The July 1963 payroll, on the other hand shows: Captains – Howard W. Stone, Richard C. Hanson; Ralph J. Arone, Arnold L. Berg, Frank J. Burns, Jr., Alfred R. Carlson, Emmett M. Carlson, John J. Feehan, John F. Fisher, Hilary J. Hamerski, Roy F. Madore, Kenneth W. Martin, Arthur E. Peterson, Malcolm J. Ryan, totaling to 14 firefighters (Huyck, 1992).

     On another note, a similar structure built around the same time is Fire Station 28, located at 2724 43rd Street West, Minneapolis. It was designed by Downs and Eads and was constructed in 1914 following an architectural style of 20th Century Period Revival. It was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.


Fire Station 15 at Present

     At present, it is remarkable that Fire Station 15 is still being used as originally intended, with very minor alterations on the building and with the spaces continuously utilized as planned by Christopher Boehme.

    Today, the firefighters attend to their duties in three shifts, each headed by a captain. The fire station still retains the two bedrooms originally intended for the two firefighters co-occupying the designation as “fire station captains.” Also, the fire station is presently home to 1 fire engine, called a quint, which is a cross between a ladder (100 feet) and an engine carrying 75 gallons of water. Although, Captain Jung mentioned that in 2015, coincidental to the station’s centennial year, another engine might be added, which will carry about 500 gallons of water.

     At present, fire stations like FS 15 are staffed by 12-15 firefighters who follow a rotational duty of about 3-4 firefighters at a given time.


References

Architects Research Files, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis, MN

Heath, R. (1981). Mill City Firefighters: The First Hundred Years 1879-1979. Minneapolis: The Extra Alarm Association of Twin Cities.

Huyck, A. (1992). The Adrian Huyck Notebook: Minneapolis Fire Department, 1857-1965. Minneapolis: The Extra Alarm Association of Twin Cities.

Interview with Captain Vicki Jung, Fire Station 15. 10 November 2014.

Kieley, G. (1997). Heart and Hard Work: Memories of "Nordeast" Minneapolis. Minneapolis: Nodin Press.

Memories and stories

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