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Downtown Central Fire Station set for renovation

By Bianca Montes
Jan. 24, 2016 at 9:23 a.m.
Updated Jan. 24, 2016 at 9:23 a.m.

The Central Fire Station on Forrest Street sits empty. The building is set to be renovated and used as an expansion to the current courthouses.

The Central Fire Station on Forrest Street sits empty. The building is set to be renovated and used as an expansion to the current courthouses.   Bianca Montes for The Victoria Advocate

Long gone are the days when bells ringing from a tower adjacent the Central Fire Station in downtown Victoria warned residents a fire was blazing.

The building, located at the corner of West Forrest and North Glass streets, has seen its fair share of change and history during the years and is set to embark on a new journey.

The county will open bids in about a month to renovate the 100-year-old building.

The new space will be an addition to the current courthouse and accommodate a courtroom for Justices of the Peace, precincts 1 and 3, and provide a new space for commissioners court. The project, which will completely gut the inside of the building and build a glass enclosed walkway that connects the old fire station to the courthouses, is estimated to cost about $2 million.

The facade of the building will mimic the old station's look, and glass doors will be installed in front to give the same appearance of the four doors that once opened into the firehouse bay.

Patrick Ohrt, registered architect with Rawley McCoy and Associates, said plans are to reuse many of the old charms that are still part of the building such as wood beams and metal decorations on the outside.

"Things like that just give the building a lot of character," he said. "Those are the things we're going to try and highlight. Those are going to be the things that really stand out."

Outside, Ohrt said, not much of the solid structure will be changed. While the building likely will never again be used as a firehouse, its rich history will remain in photographs and murals worked into the interior design.

Here are four things you may not have known about the central firehouse.

1. Although the building is 100 years old, it's not the first firehouse in Victoria. In fact, it's the fourth station, said Jeff Wright, executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc. Before it was built, there were two stations on Market Square - where city hall and the police department are currently - and one on Constitution Street. The Forrest Street station was built in 1916 and paid for through bond funds.

2. The structure itself is not designated as a historic building, but because it's on the same block as the historic county courthouse, changes to it and all other buildings on the square must be approved by the state. The state's main concern is the parts of the building that face the streets. They don't have to be restored to their original conditions but have to mimic them.

3. The notes of Wagner's Silver Cornet Band and the feet of firemen and their dance guests would often be heard from the second story of the downtown firehouse, which was used for dances and live music.

4. Many of the datemarks associated with the building were signs of a growing and changing Victoria. For many years, volunteers operated the fire stations and were often celebrated with parades called Firemen's Celebrations. The annual parades would bring in hundreds of people from as far off as Cologne, Wharton and Port Lavaca. After the opening of the station, four full-time firemen and a relief man were employed, motorized equipment was installed and, by 1938, there were eight hired positions. In 1948, the rapid growth of the community prompted the City Council to employ a paid fire chief, P.H. Salziger. The change was surrounded by many bitter disputes among old friends who didn't like that the city was pulling away from the volunteer-based way of doing things, according to Advocate archives.



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