Historic Building of the Week: Fire Department Headquarters

The Fire Headquarters in 1960, two years after its construction. Photo by Marblehead Historical Commission

When I first began learning about historic buildings, my professor told us something that has stuck with me ever since. She said that you can tell how much a community cares about a service it provides by looking at the building they choose for it.

Think about the most important buildings in our nation. Take, for instance, the White House, arguably the most important building in the United States. It is nicknamed “the people’s house,” but it does not look anything like the houses I am used to. As the seat of power for the nation it is elaborately designed and beautiful to look at – as are the Massachusetts State House and even the two town halls of Marblehead.

I want to point out another building in town that falls into this category: the Fire Department Headquarters at 1 Ocean Ave. 

In 1958, the Marblehead Messenger announced that the town was getting a new fire station. On March 12, the Town Meeting approved a $187,000 appropriation for the building’s construction – an apt present for Fire Chief John S. Adams, who had celebrated his 61st birthday the same day. Later that month, the town chose its architect, Arland A. Dirlam. 

On August 30, the town broke ground on the new fire station. Crowds came out to the ceremony, among them Selectman J. Archer Dixey, Lt. Gov. Robert F. Murphy, and a dozen firefighters. In mid-May of 1959, the town seal was placed on the newly completed fire station.

Looking at the apparatus bay –  a more complex garage – from Pleasant Street, the building looks almost exactly like it did when it was first built. Above the three garage doors are four six-over-six sash windows with shutters. To the left of the garage doors is a cornerstone with “1958” carved into it. 

One thing that has changed is the pediment on the Pleasant Street elevation. Today, inside the white, raking cornice, split-fillet pediment is the modern town seal with its vibrant colors. In 1959, however, the pediment was slightly different. Not only was it pastel blue and white, but the seal was different. Like today’s, it was in the middle of the pediment, but surrounded by ornamentation that has since been removed.

Even without the ornamentation on the pediment, the Fire Department Headquarters remains a beautiful building. Through the small details like the shutters or the brick surrounds around the garage doors, it is clear that when the town built this station, it was done with care and purpose. And as the weather heats up, if there is one municipal service that I want a town to care about, it is the fire department.