Historic designation given to Central Fire Station

Last month, California’s State Historical Resources Commission added Riverside’s downtown Central Fire Station to the state’s Register of Historic Resources.

2004 - Central Fire Station (aka Downtown Fire Station No. 1)
2004 – Central Fire Station (aka Downtown Fire Station No. 1)

Currently entering its sixth decade of operation, the building has come under threat recently as the city prepares to build a new fire station on the block directly behind the current location. And though the historic designation cannot keep the existing station from being torn down, it certainly helps protect it by making any re-development and/or demolition a bit more difficult.

We’ve always had an eye for the building’s simplistic, yet unique exterior, which is an excellent example of “form follows function” design. However, it wasn’t until recent in-depth research in which our appreciation for the edifice was cemented.

Designed by local architect Bolton C. Moise, Jr., the structure came online in 1957 as a replacement for a station* located around the corner at Eighth (University) and Lemon streets. The layout of the new building incorporated the stacking of the dormitory quarters atop the ground-level offices — while still maintaining immediate access to the engines — thereby allowing for an adjacent, column-free engine bay* (a necessity for modern fire equipment). The new building also included modern fire communication equipment and updated living amenities.

Circa 1980 - Central Fire Station* (Courtesy of Daniel Balboa)
Circa 1980 – Central Fire Station* (Courtesy of Daniel Balboa)

During its early years, the station’s design was heralded by city leaders and architects alike. But, as with many Mid-Century Modern buildings, the building has seen its share of indifference over the years as well.

Recently, the site has seen at least two mixed-use proposals, both of which included the demolition of the existing fire station. We’re unsure as to the current status of the latest plan, which in light of current economic conditions, may have stalled.

Which brings us to today’s question of what is to become of the building after the fire department relocates (and/or the latest development proposal stalls)?

2008 - Rear view
2008 – Rear view

Local historian Tanya Sorrell of ModernRiverside.com has a few ideas. She makes a good point the historic designation may actually make adaptive re-use a better alternative (and possibly more economically feasible). We agree with her suggestion the building could easily be reborn as a unique, destination-type cafe or restaurant (yes, with slide poles intact).

Even better, we particularly like her idea of it becoming a “modern” component to either the nearby Riverside Art Museum or possibly even the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. What better way to showcase contemporary art (or history) in a unique, Mid-Century Modern building while also preserving a bit of the city’s recent architectural history?



Photos courtesy of: *Daniel Balboa
Sources: City of Riverside, The Press-Enterprise, ModernRiverside.com

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  1. Wow. I read Tanya’s article and saw her ideas on re-use. BRILLIANT! The idea to turn it into an extention of the Riverside Art Museum for modern/contemporary art is hands down the best idea I’ve heard. Make the quarters area up top a studio? That is smart. Honestly, I sided with tearing it down before. I believe the building is nice and to be the best display of Modernism in Downtown along with the library (Although I still don’t care for the front of the library), but I’ve always felt that the fire station was built on the wrong street. Every other building with the exception of the library on Mission Inn Avenue feels like or is from the Spanish/Mission Revival/ Victorian era. The fire station just feels like it throws off the atmosphere. BUT, if it becomes a museum for modern art… “form follows function” is given a whole new meaning and purpose for the building. And it will fit in becuase it is a museum, and because it is art related. Problem/dilemma solved!

  2. One of the original developer proposals that went to the City Council’s development committee actually included the fire station as part of the project and used its architectural cues in design of a mixed use, multi-story retail/commercial building and parking garage. It was obviously more modern than the City’s current fascination with Mission Revival but it incorporated the building into the project. Clearly too thoughtful for some at city hall today. Modern Riverside’s ideas are FANTASTIC! What an incredible opportunity that building provides. I personally like the idea of a restaurant but a museum of modern art complex would be really fantastic. That would also require real fundraising from private sources like other world class entities do. Also, congratulations to Tanya for getting the historical designation nod from the State. Incredible…and if you ever want help???

  3. (Pub: Dec. 29 2008)
    @Jason – Yes, Tanya has some brilliant — and seemingly plausible — ideas for potential adaptive re-use of the fire station. Is anyone with the city or the museums listening?

    @Rick – Thanks for the additional information. Though we’re not against Mission Revival, as indeed, it plays an important part of the landscape that is Mission Inn Ave. It is also an indelible part of the city’s past. But too much of a certain style can in fact bring a bland and homogenous look and feel (think Santa Barbara). And though in some circumstances there is something to be said for cohesive architectural styles, there’s also something unique that “organic” architecture can bring to a city — that is, of course, if it’s allowed to develop (and remain).

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