The former Gordon Drive fire station will get a new life as a home for two newcomers to Decatur.
Bill and Megan Morrow wanted an old, historic home when they were transferred from Yuma, Arizona, to Redstone Arsenal, where they work as civilians for the U.S. Army.
Used to living in a small town, the couple chose Decatur over Huntsville. They were driving around downtown Decatur and the historic districts when they saw the aging fire house.
“We thought the fire station was perfect for us,” Megan Morrow said. “But it wasn’t for sale.”
Two weeks later, the Morrows owned it.
“We used to always drive by fire stations and talk about how great it would be to turn one into a home,” Bill Morrow said.
Fire Station No. 1 was one of three fire stations the city shut down in 2008. The station stood empty until Huntsville entrepreneur Brandon Kruse bought it through an online auction in 2016 for $45,259.
Councilman Billy Jackson objected to the sale at the time because a 2014 appraisal said the 63-year-old building was worth $115,000.
Kruse planned a commercial venture in the fire station, but he never settled on a definite use for the building. Parking limitations were a major obstacle.
The building sat empty and untouched for another three years. It was raining the first time the Morrows went inside, but the hole in the roof was so big the soaked couple might as well have been outside. A steel floor joist was the only part of the second floor remaining.
The city had condemned the building, so the Morrows had to pay $45,500 in cash to buy it.
Bill Morrow said they are working with a bank for a mortgage to renovate the building, but the banker had a difficult time deciding how much the appraised value should be because there are no comparable properties in the city.
Blake Robbins, a loan officer for Synovus Mortgage, said he thinks it’s a “wonderful idea” to turn the fire station into a home. However, he understands how much difficulty that bank is having in coming up with a good loan amount.
“I’ve never run into anything like this, even when I was a banker,” Robbins said. “It’s such a unique property there’s not a reference point to evaluate a price.”
Robbins said one possible option could be estimating the material costs that will be needed for the renovations. The building now sits without a roof and windows and has only a few walls.
Pate Enterprises is doing the renovations. Owner Frank Pate said the most difficult part of doing the estimate for the Morrows was figuring out how long the partial demolition will take.
“The rest of it is really like building a home,” Pate said.
Megan Morrow said they think they “will need $350,000 to do everything we could want.”
Pate said a three-story “drying tower” that firefighters used to dry out hoses is on the backside of the building. His crews are tearing down two stories of the tower, and the first-floor portion will be left as a room.
The Morrows plan to turn the 3,400-square-foot second floor into their living quarters with a kitchen, five bedrooms and three bathrooms.
“It will be a very nice home,” Pate said.
The Morrows plan to use the firefighter theme by featuring their family history and the station’s history in the interior design. They’ve collected some memorabilia from his dad, Michele Morrow, who was a fire chief, and another family member, Anthony Segovia, who is a firefighter. The two live in Austin, Texas.
They’ve renamed the station and plan to feature in big letters, “Michele Ladder Company.”
“We thought that would be a nice way to honor his dad,” Megan Morrow said.
John Allison, executive director of the Morgan County Archives, found an article and photos in The Decatur Daily on the grand opening in 1953 of Fire Station No. 1.
One of the first questions people always ask them is, “Does it have a fire pole?” she said. The answer is it once had two but the state fire academy has one of them.
“I plan to write them and see if we can buy them a fire pole and get the original back,” Meg Morrow said.
They’re going to keep the first-floor bays as a garage and shop area for their antique car passion. She proudly talks about her 1956 Ford Parklane.
“We once had matching 1972 Dodge Darts,” Megan Morrow said.
She said they would like to buy and restore a fire truck from the 1940s or 1950s.
The 4,200-square-foot garage will hold as many as eight vehicles and allow them to keep some of the collection out of the weather. There is a plan to direct exhaust fumes outside and away from the upstairs. The three garage doors will also help in fume control, Pate said.
Pate said the roof will be flat and supported by a wood I-joist. This will allow the Morrows to one day turn the roof into an outdoor space with pavers, an entertainment area and possibly a garden.
“You can look right down Second Avenue from the roof,” Pate said. “Wouldn’t it be cool to watch 3rd Friday, the Christmas parade or the Mardi Gras parade from their roof?”
The renovations of the Gordon Street fire station can be followed on Instagram @micheleladderco.