Landmark Fire Watchtower in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park will get $4M makeover

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

The landmark Fire Watchtower sits behind a fence in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. The crumbling structure is set to get a $4 million makeover.

The landmark Fire Watchtower sits behind a fence in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. The crumbling structure is set to get a $4 million makeover.

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.

The Parks Department, Borough  President Scott Stringer and Councilwoman  Inez Dickens will each contribute more than $1 million to help rebuild the  deteriorating landmark.

“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.”

 “It is one of the highest points in Harlem and has special historic cachet  as the last existing structure of its kind,” the Councilwoman added. “This  project will draw visitors and serve as a community asset.”

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.

Images from a 2008 Parks Department study of conditions at the Fire Watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem showed 'poor' and 'failed' conditions. The tower is the sole survivor of the eight watchtowers once scattered across Manhattan, connected via telegraph.

Images from a 2008 Parks Department study of conditions at the Fire Watchtower in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem showed ‘poor’ and ‘failed’ conditions. The tower is the sole survivor of the eight watchtowers once scattered across Manhattan, connected via telegraph.

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.”

[/DNLEDETEXT][EMAIL]simonew@nydailynews.com[/EMAIL]

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/harlem-landmark-4m-makeover-article-1.1438750#ixzz2dVmwdBQe

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