Monday, May 27, 2019

Old Sprinkler Alarms in Brookline & Beyond

As with many of my projects, this one started with a question. I posted this image of a 1930s Brookline storefront (299 Harvard Street) to Twitter and Facebook in July 2018, and a follower asked:

What is the, uh, circle thing, that's on the right side of the building that's been there all along (and is still there today)?
Image from an advertisement for the Cafe de Paris. Brookline Chronicle, November 29, 1934
Image from an advertisement for the Cafe de Paris. Brookline Chronicle, November 29, 1934
I found another image of the same location from the late 50s or early 60s, when it was the celebrated deli Jack and Marion's. There was the same round object.

Jack and Marion's
Then I went to the site — now the Gen Sou En Japanese tea house — for a closer look.

Gen Sou En 

Seeing the object — on a column at the right side of the building — showed that my initial suspicion that it was some kind of an alarm was right. Imprinted around the top edge of the cast iron bell was the name of a Worcester-based company: Rockwood Sprinkler Co.   

Rockwood, founded in 1906, made fire protection sprinkler systems and alarm gongs designed to be set off whenever the sprinklers were activated.  Their Worcester plant is now an arts center called — what else? — The Sprinkler Factory.

Sprinkler alarms are nothing unusual. You'll see plenty of them, in Brookline and elsewhere. Most are solid steel discs, usually  painted red, sometimes with a light as well as a gong.

Modern sprinkler alarms
Modern sprinkler alarms in Brookline

But this was different. It was made of iron. It had a symmetrical pattern of holes, both decorative and designed to help spread the sound. It was an industrial artifact I had passed by thousands of times without noticing it. I was intrigued.

Then I started noticing more of them, of different designs, around town.

Cast iron sprinkler alarms in Brookline. Clockwise from top left: Centre Street Walk,, Coolidge Corner; 209 Harvard Street; 1615 Beacon Street; Durgin Garage, John Street side; 1583 Beacon Street; 17 Station Street.
It turned into a little bit of an obsession. I started looking for them elsewhere, in the Boston area and any other places I visited. I even had my wife pause a movie we were watching on TV when I spotted one on the wall of a building.

Now, almost a year later, I've launched a website featuring my virtual collection of cast iron sprinkler alarms. Take a look — it's at — for more about these bits of industrial archaeology in Brookline and beyond.

No comments:

Post a Comment