San Diego’s revered and historic firehouse honored on national register
By Dave Schwab
The nonprofit San Diego Firehouse Museum (SDFM), located in Little Italy San Diego, was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
That special designation preserves the museum’s vintage collection of fire vehicles, apparatus, tools and photos dating back 125 years.
There are more than 90,000 listings on the NRHP and nearly 3,000 are in California alone.
Founded in 1962, the Firehouse Museum occupies the former home of Fire Station No. 6 — which is now in Otay Mesa — at 1572 Columbia St. A few featured fire museum pieces include La Jolla’s first fire engine, a horse-drawn steamer and materials from the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.
“The big thing with the [historic] designation is it cements the museum’s place as an important historical landmark,” said San Diego Fire Capt. Mike Colafrancesco, SDFM’s executive director. “It’s very humbling for us to get that recognition. It took a lot of hard work.”
Colafrancesco credits museum board member Stu Sprung for being “the driving force” behind making the designation happen.
A news conference hosted by firefighting officials, the city and District 3 Councilmember Chris Ward was held April 7 at the museum, to officially announce its historical designation.
Representing Fire Chief Brian Fennessy and the entire San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, assistant chief Kevin Ester congratulated SDFM on their “great achievement.”
“Being recognized on the National Register of Historic Places is not an easy thing to do,” Ester said. He added that during Old No. 6’s years of service many of the innovations created there had lasting impacts on fire fighting across the nation and that some are still in use today.
“San Diego firefighters, working in this station, continue to influence fire departments across the country,” Ester said. “Preserving this fire station not only saves this historic site, but gives us a place to learn about our fire department, its equipment, and the people that have served before us.”
Some of the equipment still housed in the museum’s brick-and-mortar building in Little Italy dates back to the late 1800s. Everything from fire buckets to early firefighting apparatus is on display.
Why check out the historical landmark?
“People should visit the museum to take a step back in time to see, and learn about, all the different firefighting artifacts from the city of San Diego,” Colafrancesco said. “It’s interesting to see how the fire service has progressed.”
Colafrancesco said the fire museum also has materials on display recovered from the World Trade Center following 9/11, as well as much older artifacts dating back to the earliest days of American firefighting.
The museum’s director added that all ages, including children, will be engaged by the museum’s displays and activities.
“We have stuff for old and young, including a kids area with a maze,” Colafrancesco said, noting that it typically takes from 20 minutes to two hours to tour the museum, with guides available to provide a narrative.
“San Diego Fire-Rescue has served our city, every single day, since 1889,” Ester said. “With being placed on the National Register of Historic Places, this station will now stand for future generations to learn about a profession dedicated to service. We are truly thankful that the museum strives to preserve the history of our organization.”
SDFM hours of operation are Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Museum admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children/seniors. There is also a gift shop with firefighting apparel for sale. The museum has a dirt parking lot, which can accommodate about eight cars. There is additional metered parking until 6 p.m. on Columbia Street. Handicap parking is located on Cedar Street, just north of the museum.