Monday, March 22, 2021

The Lost Second Precinct Station House - 156-158 Greenwich Street


The Washington Street entrance, seen above, was merely a means of accessing the actual entrance, inside the courtyard.  The Architects' and Builder's Magazine, January 1910 (copyright expired)

In 1909 the city was busy replacing four outdated police stations.  On January 26 the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund authorized the Police Department to acquire the property at Nos. 163 and 165 Washington Street and 156 to 158 Greenwich Street as the site of a replacement for the old Second Precinct station house, then located on the corner of Liberty and Church Streets. 

Associate architects Stockton B. Colt and Thornton Clard were hired to design the structure.  Faced in granite on the Greenwich Street side and red brick and stone on Washington Street, construction costs were projected at $230,000--nearly $6.5 million in today's money.  The architects devised a rather remarkable scheme.   While the Precinct would take the main address of Nos. 156-158 Greenwich Street, that entrance opened onto an interior courtyard.

The main entrance (left) sat deep within a courtyard. The Architects' and Builder's Magazine, January 1910 (copyright expired)

On August 9, 1908, as the building rose, The New York Times commented, "The idea has been to give as much privacy as possible to the muster rooms containing the Lieutenant's desk, as well as to the entrance where the patrol wagon discharges 
prisoners.  To this end the main entrance is situated in a central court accessible by a driveway from both Greenwich and Washington Streets."

The concept not only ensured privacy, but security.  At a time when anarchists and extreme labor groups resorted to violence and bombings, the heavy iron gates on the exterior driveway entrances could be closed "in case of riot or at any time to prevent curious persons from entering the court," explained the article.  Access was further restricted by including a separate "reporters entrance."

On the first floor were the muster room, a reading or recreation room for the officers and the stables.  Architecture & Building noted that the stables "are also prepared for the storage and care of automobiles."  With its own entrance inside the courtyard was the morgue room, "with special arrangement for sanitation and ventilation."

The Lieutenant's Desk and Muster Room were outfitted with both gas and electric lighting.  The Architects' and Builder's Magazine, January 1910 (copyright expired)

On the Washington Street end of the building were the cells, three tiers in height.  The New York Times called them "of the most modern type, with interlocking tool-proof bars."  There were 30 cells for men and 15 for women.

The upper floors held twelve sleeping quarters for officers and nine dormitories that could accommodate 160 patrolmen.  Detectives had their own dormitory.  They were outfitted with modern amenities like "ample lavatories and showers," and "dryer rooms for wet garments and boots."  The threat of violence reached even the topmost level.  The New York Times said "On the roof is a deck house which may be used ordinarily for a gymnasium, and in time of riot for a kitchen and mess hall."

A grainy sketch of the more impressive Greenwich Street elevation appeared in The New York Times on August 9, 1908 (copyright expired)

Architecture & Building called the structure "a dignified, substantial structure, of Italian Renaissance design."  It applauded the architects' placing the entrance inside the courtyard, saying "All the present undesirable excitement and interference attendant on the arrival of a patrol wagon at the door of the old-type of police station, with its muster-room entrance and windows on the street, is done away with."

The Brickbuilder, June 1911 (copyright expired)

As World War I erupted in Europe, the New York City Police Department responded.  On January 11, 1916 the Times Union reported "The annual installation of officers of Gen. George B. McClellan, Garrison, Army and Navy Union, composed entirely of New York policemen, occurred last evening at 156 Greenwich Street, Manhattan."

Another reaction was the establishment of the first NYPD Aviation School in the Second Precinct building in 1917.  It was a success and on December 5, 1919 The Evening World reported, "When the school was started two years ago, said Inspector [John F. ] Dwyer, there were only two instructors and six cadets.  Now there are 119 officers, cadets and instructors."  The classes were held from 8 to 10 p.m.  "The pupils are instructed in ground work and the mechanism of airplanes," explained the article.

Students are instructed on the workings of the Curtiss bi-plan.  The Sun, February 23, 1919 (copyright expired)

The end of the war brought another innovation to the police force.  On August 7, 1919 the Daily News reported on a "new school for 'coppers'" saying "Many young men, some of them out of the military service, are enrolling in the night school of the police reserves, at 156 Greenwich street, where they are taught many things of value to keeping the peace."  The organization was the predecessor of today's NYPD Auxiliary Force.

The policemen's dormitories had "ventilated lockers" and state of the restrooms and shower facilities.  The Architects' and Builder's Magazine, January 1910 (copyright expired)

Rather amazingly, on October 23, 1919 the New-York Tribune reported, "at the offices of the Police Reserves it was announced yesterday that young women recruits between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five are wanted for the Aviation Corps School, at 156 Greenwich Street.  There are at present 110 young men attending the school."  The women had to pass physical and mental examinations and were required to purchase their own books and uniforms.  "When trained they will form a women's aviation corps attached to the women's police reserves," said the article.

The school had received two Curtiss airplanes from the War Department in June that year.  The Sun reported "They will be installed in a steel hangar, also donated by the War Department, at 126th street and the North River."

Yet another innovation to the police force was initiated in the Second Precinct building in 1921 with the formation of the volunteer school crossing guards.  On November 28 the New York Herald reported "The children of New York are to have a new experience to-day when one thousand policewomen take over from the regular force the task of guarding them over street crossings near all the schools."  The uniformed women relieved police officers who were "overburdened with work since twenty-five hundred men were assigned to milk strike duty," said the article.

It was arguably a win for women's rights.  Inspector Dwyer told the group on their first day of duty:

The country will watch your success or failure.  A great responsibility rests upon you--that of proving that woman can do a type of work that heretofore has been considered exclusively as belonging to man.

The Police Reserves received the latest in technical training.  On November 22, 1923, for instance, The Sun reported, "Inspector-General Charles H. McKinney of the Police Reserves announced last night that 120 reserves have formed a class to study radio in their headquarters at 156 Greenwich street, to provide the Police Department with a wireless telegraph and telephone system."

The modern prison cells were deemed "tool proof."  The Architects' and Builder's Magazine, January 1910 (copyright expired)

Not everything went smoothly within the Police Reserves, however.  In 1922 infighting that broke out with the women's reserves demanded the attention of Major Mary Ferral.  On January 31, 1923 the Times Union ran the headline "Peace Is Restored" and began its article saying "Amiable relations have been restored among the different sections of the Ladies Police an entertainment given last evening at 156 Greenwich street for the members of Manhattan and the Bronx."  Things had become so toxic that Major Ferral was presented "a cut glass a token of appreciation of her successful efforts in bringing the groups together for a pleasant social hour."

By the Depression years the offices of the Deputy Police Commissioner were in the building and the Police Division of Licenses, which oversaw the issuing of cabaret and hack licenses, for instance, was here by the early 1940's.

The Second Precinct stationhouse, which was not only innovative in its design and layout, but changed the face of New York policing in several respects, was demolished in 1962 to make way for the World Trade Center complex.

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