A lot of people will remember the last dinner in Fire Station 56 as a rollicking affair, with politicians, community leaders and old-time firefighters crowding together to share a meal catered by restaurateur Larry Nikola.
True, it happened just that way last Wednesday night at the old station on Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake.
A dedication for the new station, half a block away at Rowena and Glendale Boulevard, is still coming. But a neighborhood group called the Griffith Park Action Council threw the party to say farewell to the old one.
About 75 people dined at several rows of tables set up in the fire engine bay. Los Angeles City Councilmen Michael Woo and John Ferraro were there to, in essence, trade the station. The old station is in Woo’s district. The new one, just across the street, is in Ferraro’s.
During dinner, about 15 former firefighters were introduced. Several took a few seconds to recall the old days.
Capt. Dave Grant, who worked there in the 1970s, said the station, across the street from Ivanhoe Elementary School and sandwiched between an apartment building and a business, was the first he worked in that had a sense of community.
“We established a rapport, even with the manager next door,” Grant said. “He used to say, ‘Capt. Grant, I like it when you’re on duty because you don’t hit the siren right out the door at night.’ ”
Rapport With Community
Retired firefighter Jack Ross elaborated on community rapport, recalling Grant’s first day.
“Capt. Grant and I were playing handball and the crew was next door helping the nurse in the apartment,” Ross said. “And he got a bit nervous and said, ‘What are they doing over there?’ And I said, ‘Never mind, Cap, you know what goes on.’ He says, ‘No, tell me. What’s happening.’ You remember that, Cap? Anyway, they were just moving some furniture.”
The last word from master of ceremonies Capt. Gregory Carle was about dessert.
“In the kitchen, we’ve got ice cream,” Carle said. “After each meal, that’s just something we have to do.”
The guests spooned ice cream out of a commercial tub. The last meal was over. Only it wasn’t the last, last meal. For reasons that may have included the preparations for the bash, the old fire station stayed open five more days.
The real last dinner began quietly at 6 p.m. Monday, much the way it had every day since 1924. Firefighter John Sparks, in blue denims, tended some pots on a vintage stove in the cook house, a small hut at the station’s back.
Fire stations were built that way to separate the kitchen from the horse teams. Even though horses were no longer used by 1924, designs hadn’t yet caught up with technology.
In the center of the yellow-walled cook house, a shellacked chip-board table with attached benches was set with five deeply chipped plates.
Sparks pulled a pork roast out of the oven, sliced it and walked to the station intercom.
“Let’s eat,” he said. In a few seconds, the other three team members walked through the screen door. They piled their plates with roast, mashed potatoes, broccoli, applesauce and carrot and raisin salad.
The Last Guest
The fifth plate was for a sole dinner guest, Ferraro deputy Tom LaBonge, a familiar caller at the station.
LaBonge, who grew up in the neighborhood, has been stopping in at the station for dinners for more than 10 years. He came alone for the last, last one.
On Tuesday, the firemen took down the flag at old Fire Station 56 at 11:07 a.m., walked it down the block and across the street and raised it at 11:11. Old Fire Station 56 was closed.