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The People’s Firehouse and St. Bridgid’s Church, Places that Matter

peoples firehouse st bridgets church new york city

What do an Irish Catholic Church on the Lower East Side and a fire house in Brooklyn have in common? More than meets the eye. Though very different in obvious ways, both St. Brigid’s Church on Tompkins Square and Engine Company 212 in Williamsburg are Places that Matter that face imminent threats to their existence. In a testament to their important presence in New York’s history and culture, both also have organized groups who are devotedly advocating to save them, making them, among other things, symbols of community activism.

St Brigid’s was dedicated in December 1849, 157 years ago this month. Situated in the center of the Lower East Side, St. Brigid’s became a cornerstone of Irish Catholic New York. As the neighborhood changed around it, St. Brigid’s continued to serve wave after wave of newcomers to New York City, from workers to the homeless and hungry. Now the New York archdiocese wants to demolish the church and its historic stained glass windows have already been smashed. Standing between the wrecking ball and the Church, is a law suit aimed at saving this important Place that Matters.

Across the East River and established just twenty years after St. Brigid’s is Engine 212. The fire house opened in 1869, just a few years after New York City replaced its volunteer fire companies with a paid force of 700 firemen who soon after became known as the FDNY. In 1975, when the City’s poorest neighborhood’s were experiencing an notorious storm of fires, the fire house became famous when its North Side neighbors rallied to save it from forced closure at the hands of the city. Northsiders occupied the building for nearly 18 months and ultimately prevailed. Engine 212 was dubbed the “People’s Firehouse” and became a symbol of community struggle against the City’s withdrawal of crucial services. But in 2003, the City again announced that it would close Engine 212. Activism to save the historic firehouse has commenced again. To learn more about the People’s Firehouse, you can watch a WNET/13 New York Voices piece at http://www.thirteen.org/nyvoices/features/firehouse.html