Historic, maybe haunted: Inside soon-to-be-ex-Fire Station 37

February 5, 2010 at 10:03 pm | In West Seattle history, West Seattle news | 18 Comments

Saturday, as part of Neighbor Appreciation Day, Seattle fire stations are all open for tours 11 am-3 pm. This’ll be the last Neighbor Appreciation Day for Station 37, since its replacement is under construction a short distance away. A student journalist accepted our challenge to tell its story before it’s too late.

(A video tour inside West Seattle’s Fire Station 37)

Story and video by Nicholas Trost
University of Washington News Lab
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

When Fire Station 37 (map) shuts down later this year, it will be sorely missed. Those firefighters lucky enough to have worked at the station appreciate its unique appeal and residential feel.

“The station feels and looks like home,” said firefighter Jorge Bernal, who currently works there. “When you’re away for 24 hours at a time, it’s a comforting place to be.”

The station has the ambience of a residential home. Upstairs there’s a nook with a couch and television where firefighters can go and rest. The living room is also similar to one you would find in any home, with low lighting and comfortable-looking furniture.

“There are cool areas where you can go away and relax for a bit,” said Lt. Lori Bish, a firefighter also at the station. “Not all places have those areas.”

Sadly, Station 37 is no longer able to adequately serve the Seattle Fire Department. At only 4,148 square feet, the station is too small to accommodate firefighters of the 21st century and their equipment.

“We have to move,” said Bish.

“There is not enough room here for our fire engines. This is now a historical building. The size of our rigs has gotten too big.”

Over the years, Station 37 has been remodeled to stay current with the times. Some years back, for example, the city improved the restrooms to make them suitable for women.

The new station, located on the southeast corner of 35th SW and SW Holden, will be state-of-the-art, and will provide the firefighters with more room:

Though the new fire station promises to be spectacular, many of the firefighters are still not sold on the idea.

“From what I believe it is going to be more industrial, sterile,” said firefighter Brian Shaner. “It is going to be institutionalized, very cookie-cutter. Every room will have the same layout, same appliances. The character is lost.”

And though many amenities come with the new building, the crew at Station 37 likes things the way they are.

“New things are cool,” said driver Tiffany Colman. “But sometimes you don’t need them.”

Though the new Fire Station 37 will be much different, and arguably less nostalgic than the old one, the city has nevertheless deemed it necessary.

“Supposedly when Greg Nickels was mayor he wanted all the fire stations to be earthquake-ready,” said Bernal. “Everything has to be retrofitted. This new station conforms to that idea.”

The new station will also provide the crew with proximity to a busier zone in which to work.

“The station isn’t busy enough at this location,” said Galen Thomaier, official Seattle Fire Department historian. “The new location will also give the crews more of a presence.”

When asked what should happen to the old station, the firefighters had many ideas. Some think it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, others think it will continue to be owned by the city, but no one knows for sure. (Editor’s note: It’s supposed to be put up for sale, but a buyer would have to adhere to the stipulations of the ordinance that made it a landmark.)

If Thomaier had it his way, he would love to move in.

“I’ve had my letter in for five years,” said Thomaier. “I would love to make this place my residence.”

If Thomaier did make station 37 his permanent home, no one in the neighborhood would be surprised. Many people confuse the station with a residence as it is.

“Back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, the city built fire stations to blend in with the neighborhood,” said Thomaier. “This fire station is a product of those times.”

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the crew stationed at 37 thinks of the station as their home, doing many things they would do normally at home with their families.

“We always try to sit down for a family dinner,” said Bernal. “We even put up Christmas lights this year. [WSB photo at left] We take pride in maintaining this place.”

Even with all the pros of living in Station 37, however, there is one con: Ghosts.

“I’m not sure who it is,” said Colman. “I think it’s an old soul. I still won’t go upstairs after dark.”

Even with the ghosts, Station 37 will be missed dearly.

“I’m going to miss the ambience,” said Bish. “It’s cozy.”
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(NICHOLAS TROST is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory)

18 Comments

  1. Thanks for the great story and cool video tour. I grew up a few blocks from there and always walked on some logs they used for their parking lot barrier.

    Comment by dsa — 10:35 pm February 5, 2010 #

  2. I like ghosts…before I moved to WS I lived in an old 1904 house on Queen Anne which I learned later had been built as a boarding house for single mothers.

    Some strange occurences happened to the point that my girlfriend wouldn’t stay alone in the house to care for my cat when I left on a business trip.

    I attributed the lights turning off and on to faulty wiring…

    I wish I could move back to WS and live with the “old soul” that inhabits this fire station. We probably have alot in common…

    Comment by Leroniusmonkfish — 10:37 pm February 5, 2010 #

  3. I can see why they feel that way. We have lived down the street for 10 years and it will be sad to not see the wood firefighter with red lights coming out of its hose on Christmas. It really is a beautiful building when – in my opinion – they built things with the human in mind. These new buildings (Seattle Police SW on Delridge) do not support and nuture people. They are industrial, heavy on the metal and have harsh angles. Good luck in the new building Station 37 – make it your own.

    Comment by changehascome — 11:45 pm February 5, 2010 #

  4. It would be cool if OLD Station 37 was turned into a Seattle firefighter museum, combined with a community hall for meetings, rotating art displays, maybe a caretaker and a resident mascot cat or dog could live their too. Home to a vintage fire truck and such…”Station 37 would still serve the people.”

    Comment by Babs — 7:39 am February 6, 2010 #

  5. Babs has a wonderful idea! I would support such an endeavor and bet many people would as well.

    Comment by Meghan — 8:02 am February 6, 2010 #

  6. Babs, I was thinking the same thing as I read through this, and was trying to remember if it had been suggested on previous Station 37 stories here on WSB.

    .

    It would be great if it would be feasible to “store” one or two of SFD’s vintage rigs there, for public viewing!

    .

    Great story, Nicholas and WSB! It’ll be awhile until I can watch the vid, (dial-up) but will check it out later!

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 8:19 am February 6, 2010 #

  7. Great story! I love that fire station and glad it’s historically designated.

    Comment by Mary T Sheely — 9:27 am February 6, 2010 #

  8. Don’t get me wrong. I have the utmost gratitude for fire fighters and all those that protect us, especially at their own risk. I also support rebuilding old facilities that have out lived their function and life span.

    Has anyone wondered why we still make fire stations, fire houses? Is it possible to provide the same level of service without providing sleeping quarters?

    In this day and age of advanced technology and changing economic landscape that have affected every profession and worker, is there an opportunity to take a step back think about it?

    Comment by jess sayin — 9:56 am February 6, 2010 #

  9. Just watched the vid. Great tour!

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 11:54 am February 6, 2010 #

  10. Here’s one of the fire fighters at Station 37 working out at the back of the apparatus bay.

    http://media.crossfit.com/cf-video/CrossFit_FrackwardsBan.mov

    Comment by ltfd — 12:26 pm February 6, 2010 #

  11. Really interesting videos.
    Thanks WSB.
    Local content of this depth is just not available anywhere else.
    We should have some kind of moving/housewarming event for these folks when they make the switch to the new place.
    I am very grateful that such dedicated and hardworking life guardians are just a 911 away.

    Comment by old timer — 3:19 pm February 6, 2010 #

  12. Personal note, I’m glad to see this story is of interest. It’s something I was meaning to do but hadn’t gotten around to setting up – was mulling asking one of the talented freelancers who work with us to take it on – but then one recent night, the News Lab folks sent out their quarterly-or-so note “our student journalists are ready to take on projects” and a couple of those “been meaning to do but hadn’t made the time” stories made perfect sense to offer as potential assignments (they get to say no if they’re not interested, but the handful of ideas I sent to them that night all got snapped up). Nick did an awesome job. I’ve never been in there myself, but the video tour is the next best thing. And thanks to SFD/Station 37 crew for making time for this – TR

    Comment by WSB — 3:32 pm February 6, 2010 #

  13. Oh yes! Thanks to the Crew of 37, too!

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 4:16 pm February 6, 2010 #

  14. Anyone have more info on the haunted angle? Thanks.

    Comment by Todd — 4:21 pm February 6, 2010 #

  15. I certainly will miss the 37 firehouse; it does have character, and hopefully it will become something nice. Having said that, I look forward to the new spot. Its just a block or so from our house and I have been watching the new construction. What with the new bar coming in up at the corner, the new station and all, the neighborhood is certainly developing quite a character.

    Comment by steve f — 7:45 pm February 6, 2010 #

  16. Cute fireman, too. Disappointed with the look of the new place. Modern, functional architecture and attractive design do not have to be mutually exclusive.

    Comment by Jeanie — 1:42 am February 7, 2010 #

  17. A dream of mine would be to make this building a hostel. Probably against the land use codes, but it’s a great location for travelers(bus line but still out of the big city)…if I were a rich woman…dadadidadidadum!

    Comment by webshaf — 11:59 am February 7, 2010 #

  18. Love the hostel/museum concept!

    Comment by Jeanie — 2:24 am February 8, 2010 #

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