The Old Huntington Firehouse at 235 Main Street is an excellent example of the town’s early 20th-century civic architecture. Located adjacent to the Old Town Hall Historic District, this remarkable structure has served the community for over 100 years. Unfortunately, town officials are now considering whether or not to approve a plan to demolish the historic firehouse, making way for intensive redevelopment of 235 Main Street and the surrounding properties along Main Street, Gerard Street, and Stewart Avenue. Is this great civic building worthy of demolition or recognition?

Old Huntington Firehouse, a.k.a. Classic Galleries, pictured above in January 2019. Originally built in 1911, the firehouse was repurposed as a retail and arts space in the 1960s. The New Community Cinema, now known as Huntington’s beloved Cinema Arts Centre, began here on the second floor in 1973.
Rendering of proposed facade along Stewart Avenue. Image by Giambertone Architects.
Partial view of the project area along Stewart Avenue (indicated by red arrows) looking west from Old Burial Hill Cemetery. The turret of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building appears on the left and the southeastern facade of Old Town Hall appears on the right. As proposed, the scale and size of the new four-story, 271,836 square-foot building will overwhelm smaller nearby landmarks, severely diminishing the character and sense of place in this unique historic setting.

Noting the significant history and character of 235 Main Street, the New York State Historic Preservation Office determined the property eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 2017. Huntington’s Historic Preservation Commission likewise recommended Old Huntington Firehouse for designation as a town landmark in 2016. However, the Town Board declined to consider the commission’s recommendation, leaving the property’s landmark status undecided. Further consideration of applications involving the proposed project should, accordingly, be postponed until the Town Board has an opportunity to decisively vote on whether or not to designate Old Huntington Firehouse as a town landmark.

In addition to the loss of Old Huntington Firehouse, Preservation Long Island is concerned about negative impacts to the adjacent Old Town Hall Historic District (the District), a locally designated historic district also listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. As currently proposed, the project appears out-of-scale and incompatible with nearby existing sites within the District, including the Old Town Hall, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building, and Old Burial Hill Cemetery. Due to the proximity of designated historic structures and important memorial landscapes, insensitive redevelopment within the project area may severely diminish the setting and viewsheds protected by the District.

Old Huntington Firehouse, ca. 1912. Its original brackets and cornice, clearly visible in the image above, still survive today. Other remaining original elements include a pressed and molded tin ceiling on the second floor, a tablet marked “Fire Dept.” on the front facade, and a tablet marked “1911” on the parapet. Image courtesy of the Huntington Fire Department.

Recognizing the historical value Old Huntington Firehouse in no way precludes the possibility of rehabilitating the structure for new uses. Should the Town Board vote to designate the property as a town landmark, the owners could seek a partial historic property tax exemption, as provided by Section 178-24 of the Town Code. If listed on the NRHP, the property owners may also be eligible for the federal historic tax credit program. Such financial incentives are intended to support the adaptive reuse of historic commercial structures like Old Huntington Firehouse while achieving a reasonable return for owners and investors.

Redevelopment of the property need not destroy another significant historic building in downtown Huntington (e.g., Hotel Huntington, a.k.a. the Aboff Building, demolished at Fairview Street and New York Avenue in 2012 to construct a new TD Bank branch). Innovative design and thoughtful planning have helped preserve historic structures elsewhere on Long Island, fostering a powerful sense of place that promotes interest and investment in the surrounding community. Moreover, adaptive reuse of existing buildings is an environmentally sustainable option for downtown revitalization that reduces landfill waste, stimulates the local economy, and consumes less energy and resources than demolition and new construction. Studies by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Older, Smaller, Better project have also shown better economic and livability outcomes in places with smaller, mixed-age buildings. Based on these findings, mixed-use redevelopment projects in Huntington are likely to be more successful if older buildings like the firehouse are reused alongside appropriate new construction.

Simply put, historic structures like the Old Huntington Firehouse can play a vital role in successful Main Street redevelopment. We believe it is possible to achieve the goals of redevelopment without destroying Huntington’s historic places.

As firefighting equipment changed over time, so did firehouses. Overhead garage doors were eventually installed to accommodate newer, larger fire engines at Old Huntington Firehouse. Nevertheless, the original set of four pairs of swinging garage doors are well documented by this old postcard of the firehouse. Wonderful evidence for an exciting rehabilitation and restoration project!
The latest 1910s firefighting equipment arrives at Old Huntington Firehouse (the structure is visible in the background). The Huntington Fire Department (established 1843) was previously headquartered in a smaller firehouse built in 1869 at 10 Wall Street; this structure was demolished in 2014. Image courtesy of the Huntington Fire Department.

ACTION ALERT!

The proposal to demolish Old Huntington Firehouse is now being reviewed by the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Residents may submit comments regarding the proposal to the Board at:

Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Huntington
100 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743
Phone: 631-351-3107
Fax: 631-351-3108
E-mail: planning@huntingtonny.gov

If you’d like to voice your support for the designation of Old Huntington Firehouse as a Town landmark, Huntington residents should direct their comments to:

Huntington Historic Preservation Commission
228 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743
Phone: (631) 351-3244
Fax: (631) 351-3245
Email: historian@huntingtonny.gov

Comments are closed.