Pacific Northwest | October 5, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 5, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
ON FITNESS
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

Stationed to Serve
Photo
COURTESY OF THE RENTON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
The combination bell and siren tower was removed from the Renton Fire Station for its 1979 conversion into the city's museum. The oak tree on the right, however, has both stayed rooted and flourished behind the station/museum through the roughly 58 years between this week's then and now.
Photo
PAUL DORPAT

 
Like road work and jury duty, fire fighting was a community obligation for every able-bodied male before professional skills and standards were embraced — often after a large portion of a firetrap pioneer city burned down. In Renton, the prudent reason for opening its Moderne fire station and staffing it with professionals was the wartime boom that accompanied the manufacture there of Boeing's B-29 bomber.

The population of Renton in 1942, the year the station opened, was roughly 4,000. In just three years, it quadrupled. This view of the station at 235 Mill Ave. S. dates from about 1945. The station was a late project of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and the Russian-born architect Ivan Palmaw, who had both St. Nicholas and St. Spiridon parishes in Seattle to his credit before he took on the Renton job.

In 1978 the firefighters moved out, and soon the historians moved in. In the shift from machines to artifacts, the smallest of the station's three engines was saved. The 1927 Howard-Cooper pumper on the far left is parked permanently within the museum — directly behind where it is seen here.

The first of the Renton Historical Museum's many blessings was the political and fund-raising work of firefighter Ernie Tonda, who began his career at the station when it opened in 1942 and retired as a captain before guiding the building through its conversion. The blessings continue with the city of Renton's commitment. Museum director Steve Anderson is a city employee, and the city owns the building as well as the grounds; it also pays the utilities.

Museum archivist Stan Green has lived in Renton since the 1950s, when the siren atop the station's timber tower sounded its Cold War test every Wednesday at noon.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

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