Saga of a West Coast firehouse

At 1088 Green Street on Russian Hill stands a ``small gem of San Francisco history'' - a historic firehouse built in the Tudor Revival Style in 1907 for Engine Company No. 31. Mr. and Mrs. Ralph K. Davies bought the building in 1957 and later gave it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to ensure its preservation. It's the only firehouse on the Trust's roster of properties.

A colorful example of turn-of-the-century firehouse architecture, the structure orginally housed a Metropolitan Double Steamer (a pumper), drawn by three horses, and a hose wagon. The firehouse served as a focal point of the neighbohood, a sort of community center where children played and brought broken bikes to be mended, and where neighbors met and visited and asked the firemen to do any number of odd jobs. During World War II, the building became an informal air raid alert center.

The city abandoned the firehouse in 1952 and put it up for sale at public auction five years later. By then it was full of debris, had sagging beams, and dry rot had set in. Local residents fiercely fought the its demolition and replacement by a highrise building. The Davies (he was then chairman of the American President Lines, a luxury ocean liner company) rescued the building, purchasing it for $17,300 and investing several times that in its renovation.

Louise Davies converted the upstairs into an elegant private apartment and still uses it as her residence when she is in San Francisco. On the first floor, she has assembled a collection of firefighting memorabilia and equipment as a sort of memorial to early San Francisco firefighting history. The firehouse is not open to the public, but over the years Mrs. Davies has allowed a number of civic and community groups to use it for meetings and charitable functions, and it has been featured on many architectural walking tours.

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