It's midmorning Thursday; there's a threat of rain; and Battalion Three chief Larry Anthony is frantic. He works his cell phone, trying to track down information about a forgotten firehouse that has stood on the corner of Mississippi and Crump boulevards for almost 80 years.
"The Old 8 is coming down, and the date stone is already off the building," he says, shouting over the noise of a dozen workers who are taking the two-story building apart, brick by brick. "What's going to happen to the sign?"
He listens, asks more questions, then snaps his phone shut, satisfied to learn that the building's ornamental stonework etched with the words "Station No. 8" has been promised to the Fire Museum of Memphis.
"We wanted to save the sign from the Old 14, but it ended up getting crushed in the middle of the street," Anthony says, remembering the former station at McLemore and Willoughby. "I couldn't stand to see that happen again."
At least a few people still care about the station's proud history, where 12 African-American firefighters were assigned to Engine Company No. 8 on July 11, 1955. "They were the first black firefighters in Memphis," says Bill Adelman, who works as watch commander for the Memphis Fire Department and operations manager for the fire museum.
The station house is historically significant in other ways, as well. It was built in 1929 for $17,000, replacing an earlier wooden firehouse constructed at the same site in 1901.
"No. 8 was a horse-drawn engine company and one of the earliest fire stations in Memphis," Adelman says, explaining that the department purchased its first motorized fire equipment in 1912. The station continued to operate until 1975, when it closed along with Station No. 3 at Linden and Third. The companies were combined into the new Station No. 8, located two blocks north on Mississippi near Booker T. Washington High School.
"If I'd realized the building was in such bad shape, I would have tried to stir up interest in having it saved," Adelman says. "But there wasn't much I could do by the time I realized it had been condemned."
Anthony Bradberry, who owns the Old 8 building and adjacent car wash, agrees. He says the abandoned station had shifted from its foundation and, perhaps ironically, was damaged a few years ago by a late-night fire. The high cost of restoration and the threat of city fines after the building was condemned left him few choices.
"We've had some old-timers come by to see the building, and they've taken a brick or two." Bradberry says. "Everyone is sad to see the building go."
Adelman finds some solace in Bradberry's promise to donate the station's date and nameplates, signage he'd like to hand over to the new Station No. 8. "My hope is that we incorporate the Old 8 sign into the structure of the New 8 along with some sort of plaque that tells the station's story," Adelman says. "At least then, the history won't be completely lost."