A Pair of Photos of Los Angeles Fire Department Engine Company No. 6, July 1910

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A post from last year gave a little bit of the early history of the Los Angeles Fire Department, from its volunteer origins in September 1871 to the professionalized department that arose during the Boom of the 1880s late in the decade and on up to the 1910s.

Naturally, as the city grew by leaps and bounds at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, the need for schools, parks, policing and firefighting grew right along.  Today’s post features a pair of real photo postcard photographs taken of the crew, equipment and firehouse of Engine Company 6, taken about July 1910.

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The company started on 2nd Street near Boyle Avenue in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood founded by William and Nicolasa Workman’s nephew, William Henry Workman, in the mid-1870s.  In 1888, at the peak of the boom and the final year of William Henry’s two-year term as mayor of the city, the station was opened, though it only remained for about six years.

In 1894, Engine Company 6 relocated to a growing area of the downtown section and was housed at 114 West 9th Street, just west of Main Street.  That was another short stint of about five years before another relocation took place.  The site is now the Los Angeles Apparel Mart Building.

The station wound up, in 1899, being relocated a few blocks east to 916 S. Santee Street, but only for about a year, as it was moved yet again.  The new location was 1279 W. Temple Street, in the Angelino Heights area not far from Echo Park.  This was another fast-growing section of the city in 1900 and the structure shown in these two images is the one built at that time.

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The building was an interesting architectural specimen, being of wood-frame construction with horizontal siding and sporting some notable details.  These include the projecting curved entrance with fluted columns (turned slightly at an angle) topped with pointed caps; a projecting second-floor bay with nine large relief designs that look like fleur de lis (literally, “lily flower”); and, at the top (not seen in the photos), a gabled parapet with an arched opening at the center.

One of the photos shows seven men, all but one in full dress, standing near or sitting on a pair of two-horse drawn vehicles, one containing the hoses and the other the steam pumper.  The latter was either pretty new or was just kept in excellent condition because the metal sure gleams.  The pumper was pulled by white horses and the other vehicle by black ones, though that might have been by design so the vehicles could be distinguished during a call.

The second view is closer up and shows the pumper only and the shiny condition is even more noticeable as the exposure is lighter, making visibility of details better.  Also notable is that more of the west elevation of the structure, up Edgeware Road is visible. Presumably, the horses were stabled at the rear of the building.  Also of interest is a railing visible through the entrance.

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The first postcard, postmarked on 11 July 1910, was sent by George Burke to his brother David, with the latter’s address given as Engine 10, S.F.F.D. (San Francisco Fire Department), at an address of 17th Street between Harrison and Folsom.  This is in the Mission District of the city and the site became the district’s police station, but the firehouse is now in the Presidio Heights area to the northwest.  David, who previously was a wood dealer, is listed in the 1910 census, taken on 29 April, as a driver at the station, which had eleven crew residing there.

There is a brief message, though it doesn’t say much other than that George was awaiting a response from David to his last letter.  He did write “here is a card a fellow give me, thouth [thought] I’d send it.”  In that year’s census, George is shown as living in San Francisco with his mother, three brothers and a sister and was listed as a laborer doing “street work.”  He died three years after sending the letter, while David lived thirty years beyond that.

Crew members from Engine Company 6 posed with their decorated vehicle for a floral festival, Los Angeles Times, 11 May 1907.

As for Engine Company 6, the building remained until 1928, when a Mediterranean-style structure, striking in its architecture and ornamentation, was built.  That remained in service until 1949 when it was moved up the street to 534 E. Edgeware in preparation for the construction of the Hollywood Freeway (U.S. Highway 101.)  Though the station was moved to its current location at 326 N. Virgil in the Rampart district, the 1928 structure still stands, though it’s been used as a community building and is a city historic-cultural monument.  Here is a great page on the station’s history from the department’s historical archive

These two photographs are among a small set in the museum’s holdings that show Los Angeles Fire Department personnel at stations and on the scene of fires during the early decades of the 20th century and are interesting documents of that profession in the rapidly growing city.

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