Visitors Center to open at Fort Totten – QNS.com

Visitors Center to open at Fort Totten

Piece by piece, the conversion of Bayside’s Fort Totten from a cold-war command center to a public park, home to community facilities, training center for the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), and historic site is falling into place.
During the month of December, Ann Jawin, founder of the Center for the Women of New York announced they had resolved a long-running dispute with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DOPR) and secured a historic building for their headquarters.
Barely a week later, the FDNY, a central player in the dispute with Jawin’s group, cut the ribbon on a new fire marshal base at the fort, located in a recently restored, century-old landmark building that once served as quarters for senior officers in the U.S. Army.
The next major opening is scheduled to be a Visitors Center at the entrance to the fort’s historic stone fortifications which command the mouth of the East River, according to DOPR Northeast Queens Administrator, Janice Melnick.
“We’ve been working toward this since the outset of our plans to take over a section of the fort,” Melnick said.
The 19th century brick building which will house the center lies at the edge of the heavily wooded northern tip of the fort, which is on Willets Point. It guards the entrance to the underground complex of tunnels and storage structures designed to service the gun batteries which defended the “back door” to New York Harbor since the Civil War.
The structure is deliberately set in a secluded location, and accessed through a gate on what the Army imaginatively named “Ordnance Road,” leading to the below ground delivery doors for the cannon balls and later anti-aircraft shells, which were fortunately never fired in anger.
Physical renovation of the building which served as the management office for the “battery command” has been completed. The steeply pitched roof and red brick look ready for inspection. Inside, modern windows, and utilities contrast with the time-worn wide-planked floors and massive wooden structural supports, which give a sense of connection to the historical photos and maps which already line the walls.
“Work is progressing nicely on the exhibits,” Melnick said adding, “but we don’t exactly know when we will be opening.” Having worked so long and so hard on this facet of the project, they’re determined to attend to every detail before making an announcement.
“We’re still waiting on some Civil War-era cannon and ammunition,” Melnick said, confiding that she believed that the ammunition at least would be non-functioning “replicas.”
The massive stonework visible from the water side (or the Throgs Neck Bridge) was completed just in time to be made obsolete by advances in artillery design. But it was longer-range cannon which prompted construction of the fort in the first place.
During the Revolutionary War, the British placed mobile cannon at Cryders Point, at the tip of what is now Beechhurst, closer to the Bronx than the more defensible but more distant Willets Point site.
With the advent of aircraft in the 20th century, the defensive role of the fort eventually outgrew guns, to the command of about half the Nike-Ajax and later Nike-Hercules missiles which defended the eastern United States against attack by then-Soviet bombers attacking from across the North Pole. The Nike missiles were physically located on Hart Island in Long Island Sound.
The fort is still critical to the city’s defense, only now it’s by fighting fire.
The opening of the new FDNY fire marshal base at the fort, on Wednesday, December 19, created a central command base for all fire investigations throughout Queens, the Bronx and northern Manhattan.
The Citywide North Command - staffed by 37 fire marshals, eight supervising fire marshals and a deputy chief fire marshal - is housed in the three-story, 12,000 square-foot building, which contains an interview room, a holding cell, a kitchen, a conference room and office space.
“Fire marshals are an essential component in protecting the security of this city, and this new base will allow them to conduct more investigations efficiently,” said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta at the ribbon cutting. “By uncovering new fire patterns and the causes of the city’s most tragic fires, fire marshals have the unique ability to prevent other tragedies from occurring.”

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