One of the initial goals of the restoration of Engine House 2, was to achieve the City of Houston’s historic Landmark status, which helps to protect the firestation for years to come. In order to have the building recognized by the City, we researched the history of the firestation, which involved sitting at the Julia Ideson Library Building downtown, and spending time at the Houston Fire Museum. What follows is just the beginning of the interesting history of the Engine House 2, we hope to include more information here as we uncover it both in the time that has passed since it’s construction, and in the continued making of new history.
317 Sampson Street — Houston Fire Department
Station No. 2: 1910 – 1926
Station No. 17: 1926 – 1983
Built in 1910, Engine House No. 2 (later Fire Station No. 17) is a brick, two-storey structure on a corner lot bordered by Sampson and Preston Street. At 5,300 square feet, Engine House No. 2 is similar in size to the other fire stations that were built in Houston in the early 1900s. The ground floor housed the wagons, horses, pump equipment, hoses, and other major fire fighting equipment. The height of this open ground floor (just over fourteen feet tall) was used to hang much of the hose lengths and other equipment overhead, for maintenance and storage. A central column line carries a deep wooden beam, creating long clear spans and an open floor plan that could accommodate the coming and going of large equipment and facilitate the rapid organization and response to local emergency calls. The upper level housed the station crew’s quarters. Offices, a bunk room, showers, a kitchen, and common living space provided generous accommodations to the new salaried, on-duty fire fighters that was unheard of in the smaller converted residential facilities of the volunteer forces. Throughout the interior, the outer walls were finished in a thick painted plaster and partition walls and ceilings were finished with painted bead-board.
On the exterior of Engine House No. 2, the base of the load bearing masonry wall is faced in three foot high, rusticated cast-concrete, wrapping the entire perimeter. The dominant brick color is a light orange-red, with the brick arches consisting of a yellow brick, which has been painted white since the stations original construction. The main elevation is sited on Sampson Street, facing south west. The lower storey of the Sampson elevation is punctuated by two wagon/garage entries with smaller, arched windows to either side. The upper storey has three large arched windows, bookended by two smaller, arched windows that maintain the symmetry of the openings on the lower floor. The Preston Street elevation is a narrower, secondary facade, situated on a side street. It lacks the grand archways of the wagon doors or large windows, but maintains the ornament, detail and symmetry of the Sampson elevation. A parapet wraps three sides of the fire station. Decorative corbelling traces the profile of the parapet around its entire perimeter. The Sampson Street facade has a tall brick pediment centered above the wagon doors, reinforcing the symmetry of the elevation. The parapet at the Preston Street facade is plain and maintains a consistent height, concealing the minimal slope of the roof behind it. At the short, north facing facade the parapet steps with the roof slope, maintaining the visual cues as to which are the prominent and more formal facades and which are of less importance.
The other two facades face the station yard and are more modest in their styling and construction. There is more variety in the window sizes and placement, as they accommodate the interior program, rather than maintaining the formal street presence of the Sampson or Preston facades. Bathrooms, bunk rooms, and stair landings drove the layout and sizes of these openings. Two more wagon doors, on the rear facade, open out into the yard, aligning with those on the Sampson facade. These doors opened up onto a brick court in the rear yard. Paving brick extends from the base of the rear facade, across the entire yard. This brick has been covered with a thin layer of asphalt at a later point, but appears to be in good shape where it is showing through. At the north east corner of the station, an eight foot square, concrete pad was built to support a radio tower. The tower has been removed, but the concrete base remains intact.
There is evidence that Engine House No. 2 was a design of Houston architect, Olle J. Lorehn (1864-1939). Olle Lorehn is known to have been commissioned to design several other fire stations including Fire Station No. 7 (1899), Fire Station No. 9 (1899) (demolished) and the old Central Fire Station (1903) (demolished). In addition to these fire stations, Olle Lorehn is responsible for the design of a number of Houston’s other prominent civic buildings from the early 1900s, including 1417 Congress Street, the Dakota Lofts, the Former Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral. No original drawings or documents have been found that attribute Engine House No. 2 to Olle Lorehn, but there is a remarkable similarity in the design of the station’s facade with that of other fire stations know to be the work of Olle Lorehn. While there are slight variations in the styling, the cast-concrete rustication, the proportions of the brick arched openings and the layout of the symmetrical facade are all characteristic of Olle Lorehn’s other work of the period.
Company No. 2 was one of the three original, volunteer companies in Houston during the late 1800s. The company was first organized in 1852 as Liberty No.2, an all volunteer company. In 1856, Liberty No. 2 became the first fire company to have a steam engine, purchased by a group of businessmen and stored on Franklin Street between Travis and Milam.[i] The construction of Engine House No. 2 marks the transition of Houston’s fire department from a loosely structured volunteer effort, housed primarily in converted private residences, into a salaried organization that was trained, equipped, and maintained by the City of Houston through taxes and private funding.
Company No. 2 had its first engine house built in 1910 at 317 Sampson Street. The Report of the Fire Committee in Illustrated City Book of Houston  states “the contract has been let and work begun on the engine house at the corner of Sampson Street and Preston Avenue, to be known as Engine House No. 2. This will be a very handsome structure and when completed and fully equipped will prove of great value to that fast growing portion of our city.”[ii] The Chief of the Fire Department noted the new addition “with much interest that the new fire station for the lower part of the Second and Third Wards is now under construction, and when this house is completed and equipped it will be of great benefit to the people in that locality in the increased efficiency of the department.”[iii] The City Engineer noted the original construction cost of the Station as $8,000.[iv]
Upon completion, the Report of the Fire Committee dated March 1, 1911 cites the station as a noteworthy contribution to the City of Houston. It reads “Engine House No. 2, at the corner of Preston and Sampson Streets, has been completed and fully equipped with apparatus and men. This is a handsome structure, up-to-date in every respect, and is of great value to that portion of the city.” By 1914, the Report of the Fire Commissioner detailed that Engine House No. 2 was equipped with  house and lot,  fourth size Metropolitan Steamer and equipment,  combination hose wagon and equipment,  first class horses,  sets of harness, [2050 feet] of cotton, rubber-lined fire hose, [150 feet] of chemical hose, house furnishings and furniture, a heater stove for the house, as well as coal, feed, and other miscellaneous supplies and tools. A six-men crew managed the hose wagon; a three man crew managed the steamer. All men ranged in age from 21–56 and were American, German, and Irish.[v]
Company No. 2 remained at 317 Sampson Street until moving to Bagby and Capital in 1926. After Company No, 2’s departure, Company No.17 took residence at 317 Sampson, remaining at this location until 1983. At this point, the Company moved to a new facility that could accommodate the growing size and service requirements of the current firefighting equipment, primarily the new engines and ladder trucks. The building was purchased by a private owner, but has sat vacant and unused since 1983. It’s condition has deteriorated, but overall the building remains a sound specimen. Of note are the major cracks forming in the buildings short facades, which lack any tie back or tensioning system, the original window frames and casings have either been removed, or damaged beyond repair, but are intact enough to suggest their original detailing, the wagon doors have all been replaced with no evidence or their original design, the roof has failed in several locations due to normal weathering, causing water damage in the roof structure but is localized and can be repaired. Overall, the condition of Engine House No.2 is sound and can reasonably be restored to near original condition.
In 2013 the station and its property was bought by a new private owner with the intention of restoring the exterior of the building to its original design and condition and converting the interior into a residence while maintaining its original character.
[ii] Illustrated City Book of Houston: 1909, page 51.
[iii] Ibid, page 55.