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automatic fireplug.  west 20th street.

Automatic fireplug – West 20th Street.


There are certain things that stay the same, no matter which side of 50 you are on. Like a morning routine. The a.m. personality, and its peccadillos, gets fixed in stone at some point, and either you are a bright popper-outer or a groaning bear. Coffee must be imbibed ASAP, or it can wait until you get around to putting the water on the stove; or coffee is completely dispensed with because you only drink tea.

One of my morning routines is to swim. In 1980, I moved to Washington D.C., and promptly found a pool to do my morning laps in. When I moved to New York in 1988, I found a pool to swim in before I found my apartment, (which, for perspective sake, turned out to be a 4th floor walk-up studio with a sleeping alcove for $900/month. Cheap by today’s standards.) These days I swim at a pool which overlooks the Hudson River and Hoboken, NJ.

24 East 21st St.

24 East 21st St.

Sometimes I take the bus cross-town, and sometimes I walk.  If I walk, I travel the same three streets, cross the same 10 avenues, and have seen the same set of buildings for the past 16 years. Some are old, not old like Europe, but 19th century old. Some attempt to evoke a Greek-Roman essence.

Face on a building on West 21st Street

Face on a building on west 21st street

Faces are carved into the limestone facades; appear on portals above doors; adorn lintels.

Door portal on Gramercy Park East

Door portal on Gramercy Park East

Perhaps faces were the architectural rage of that moment the way glass buildings are the cultural rage of this moment.

Recently, I was doing my trek crosstown when something caught my eye. It was a white plaque nailed onto a wall of an apartment building on 20th street that read AUTOMATIC FIREPLUG, with the words A.F. A and E Co. written underneath.  I’d seen the sign a 1000 times, but this time I stopped to ponder what is an automatic fireplug and who was A.F. A and E Co. on 294 B’way.

The Internet was useless on A.F. A and E Co., but quite informative on fireplugs.  They plugged water.  In the 1800s, the best way to access water in case of a fire was to cut a hole in the main water pipe and insert a hose to direct the water to where needed to trounce the fire. The hole would then be plugged until next time it was needed. Ergo the fireplug. I just wonder when that sign was installed and when was the last time the fireplug was used?

I took the photo (at the top of the post) and kept on walking so I could complete the a.m. routine:

Get to pool; swim laps; shower; get ready for work; walk to bus stop; get back across town from the west side to east side; take
subway uptown; order iced green tea to go from Starbuck’s; turn on computer…