Before swift fire trucks, every neighborhood – especially those of wood frame construction, like most of St. Paul – needed a fire station. Making a fire call was slower and more complicated then. You had to alert and gather the firefighters, then as now, but also arouse, assemble, and harness the team of horses before starting the not-very-rapid chase to the fire. Therefore, proximity was everything.
When this fire station opened in 1882, St. Paul was still spreading at a population of 42,000, filling the open prairie to the west of downtown. By 1890, the population had risen to 133,000. This was one of the first neighborhood firehouses. Before this, there had been just four, all located in downtown. Ten years later, the city had 17. (Today, though St. Paul's population has more than doubled since 1890, it maintains only 15 fire stations.)
Engine House #5 closed in 1930. It had a second life as a filling station (Pure Oil) and auto body shop from the late 1940s to the middle 1960s. It has hosted a series of restaurants since the late 1970s, the Happy Gnome being by far the longest-lasting. You can see traces of the original bays – imagine the horse teams and shining engines -- in the two big windows facing Selby.