Fort Tilden Fire Destroys Historic Building

 Fort Tilden Fire  Destroys Historic Building

By Katie McFadden


Just as the smoke cleared out from the Canadian wildfires, Rockaway had some smoke of its own. A piece of Rockaway’s history was heavily damaged when a fire broke out at the abandoned T9 warehouse in Fort Tilden in the early morning hours of Friday, June 9.

A building that withstood both World Wars may have met its fate. T9 holds a place in Rockaway’s history as part of historic Fort Tilden. The building, toward the back of Fort Tilden, near the parking lot, was originally used as a locomotive repair center, servicing the railway that once ran through the base, and was later used as a motor pool for the U.S. Army and then the National Park Service. Fort Tilden, as a whole, was created in 1917 amid WWI and was deactivated as an Army base in 1974, when it was turned over to NPS.

T9 had gone unutilized for decades until MoMa PS1 brought new life to it for their Rockaway! art exhibit after Hurricane Sandy. In 2014, the building was used to house singer Patti Smith’s “Resilience of a Dreamer” which featured a bed draped with curtains hanging from the building’s tall ceilings. It was again used in 2018 by MoMa for Yayoi Kusama’s “Narcissus Garden,” housing dozens of reflective silver spheres. In recent years, it had mostly been a home for local “art” with the floors to ceiling donned in ever-changing graffiti. Now the walls are donned with burn marks after Friday’s massive fire.

A call came in at 4:51 a.m. on Friday for a two-alarm blaze at the three-story building. More than 24 units showed up and three tower ladders worked on putting the fire out, a task that was made more challenging by the building’s secluded location. According to the FDNY, by 7:17 a.m., the fire was declared under control. It is not clear what condition the building is in, but photos seem to show the structure is now unsafe. It is unclear if it will need to be demolished. The Rockaway Times reached out to the National Park Service, which oversees Fort Tilden, for more information, and got a simple response of, “FDNY and US Park Police are currently investigating the fire.”

Councilwoman Joann Ariola suspects someone is responsible for starting the fire. In a statement she said, “Fires don’t start themselves. The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, but there have been several reports of squatters making use of the building in the past, and I don’t think it is a stretch to connect the dots on this. I urge the National Park Service and Park Police to increase patrols in the area to keep an eye out for people seeking to squat in the abandoned buildings around the fort, especially during these busy summer months, when so many people come to visit the park.”

She also thanked the FDNY and volunteer fire services for their quick response to the fire.  “I would also like to thank the many members of the FDNY and local volunteers who responded to the fire and brought it under control quickly,” Ariola said. “Without their effort, this could have easily spread to the surrounding brush, and could have been a much worse situation.”

Photo by Kevin DeMatteis.

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