The crumbling 19th Century structure is the last remaining cast-iron watchtower in the U.S. it is the only one remaining of eight that once constituted Manhattan’s emergency alert system
Most New Yorkers don’t even know it exists, but a crumbling 19th century landmark in Marcus Garvey Park is about to be turned into Harlem’s newest sightseeing destination, thanks to a $4 million makeover that will be announced Wednesday.
The cast-iron fire watchtower — the only one remaining of eight that constituted Manhattan’s emergency alert system before the days of fire alarm boxes — has been ignored for decades.
“It’s the only remaining cast-iron watchtower in the United State of America,” said Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro, whose office plans to spend $1.1 million on the project. “It’s a unique phenomenon in New York City.”
Contractors will spend the next 12 months dismantling the structure’s rusty beams, mending the least-damaged spots and replacing the broken pieces with fresh slabs of cast iron.
Dickens, whose office pledged nearly $2 million to rebuild the 47-foot relic, called the allocation a “smart investment that will pay for itself many times over.”
Before time rendered the four story, octagonal tower unsafe, a winding staircase led visitors to the top of the tower, which used to house a five-ton bell.
The Fire Watchtower has a quality of pristine beauty in its slender elegance that is unmatched elsewhere,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1967, when it designated the tower a city landmark.
By 2008, the structure was so weak that the Parks Department deemed it “poor” and “failed.” Last year, residents complained that a strip of sheet metal flew off the top of the observation deck and ended up lodged in a tree.
The city already allocated $325,000 this year to stabilize the tower’s highest, most vulnerable level, but that work was not completed and the money will be rolled into the bigger project.
“It is important for the city and for the country to save this historic structure,” Castro said.
The refurbished tower will nearly replicate what the structure looked like when it first went up, in 1856.
“They would ring the bell every Sunday for church. It was a huge presence in the community,” said Stringer, whose office is doling out $1.1 million toward the plan.
Goals include re-opening the stairs and turning the tower into a hot new tourist attraction, replete with concession stands and signs explaining the site’s historical significance.
“We want to make this a destination,” said Syderia Asberry Chresfield, president of Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association. “We are very happy to have this come into fruition.”