As I approach the three-story, brick-and-stone firehouse on a quiet corner in Tribeca, I notice the bright red front door is closed. It’s a sunny spring afternoon, and several other people are standing outside on North Moore Street, taking selfies and videos in the small triangle between West Broadway and Varick Street in downtown Manhattan. The crowd scatters to accommodate a fire truck pulling onto the one-way street; as it backs up to maneuver through the door, I catch a glimpse of the golden yellow New York vanity license plate: ECTO 1.
It’s not uncommon for fire departments in New York City, and across the world, to attract admirers, especially in the decades after 9/11. Hook and Ladder Company 8, located just a mile north of where the World Trade Center towers once stood, was one of the first to respond to the 2001 terrorist attack; the firehouse lost a truck and lieutenant Vincent G. Halloran, for whom a portion of North Moore Street has since been renamed.
But the company, one of 143 still active in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), is most famous for what remains: its early-1900s Beaux-Arts firehouse, which doubled as the Ghostbusters headquarters in the original 1984 namesake film, plus its sequel, reboots, and a LEGO set. The Tribeca building was only used for exterior shots, but almost 40 years after Ghostbusters premiered, the sleepy street still draws tourists by the busload.
Hook and Ladder 8 leans into its Hollywood connection, selling patches, t-shirts, and hoodies emblazoned with the company’s official insignia, based heavily on Micheal C. Gross’ original red-and-white logo. Because it’s still very much an active firehouse, there are no official tours. But you don’t need to sweet talk Janine Melnitz—or use a Halligan tool—to see inside: If the door is open, and you ask nicely, one of the firefighters might show you around the ground floor (and may ask you to leave, nicely, if there’s a call).
Castro has been a firefighter for 5 years. He shows me the 9/11 memorial and a collection of phones melted in various fires. He opens the truck and hands me a Halligan tool, which is just about as heavy as it looks. Designed by, and named for, First Deputy Chief Hugh Halligan in 1948, the hybrid crowbar (with a fork on one end and a pick and blade on the other) is often paired with an ax and used for breaking open locked doors. Castro says they didn’t need to use it on their most recent call, a “rubbish fire in a subway station that was just smoke” by the time they arrived.
When I ask if Hook and Ladder 8 is busy, Castro says “there aren’t a lot of fires in Tribeca,” and knocks on the nearest piece of wood he can find.
Built in 1903 by Alexander H. Stevens, superintendent of buildings for FDNY, the firehouse was originally twice as wide with two front doors. Eleven years later, Varick Street was widened, reducing the western portion of the building by 35 feet.
What the company lacks in square footage, it makes up for in fans and screen time. Prominently featured in the first two Ghostbusters movies, the exterior has cameos in the 2016 woman-led Ghostbusters, as well as Hitch, How I Met Your Mother, and Seinfeld. “Tour buses stop on the corner and let out 20 or 30 people at a time,” Castro says. “We look out the windows and see a shooting gallery of cameras. Sometimes we have to say, ‘Move to the side, we’re still working here.’”
In the original Ghostbusters, a real estate agent shows the dilapidated building to Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). Spengler is not impressed with the “unique fixer-upper opportunity,” the interiors of which were filmed in a decommissioned Los Angeles firehouse. “I think this building should be condemned,” he tells Venkman. “There is serious metal fatigue in all the load-bearing members, the wiring is sub-standard, it’s completely inadequate for our power needs, and the neighborhood is like a demilitarized zone.”
New York has changed in countless ways since then-President Ford infamously declined to bail out the nearly-broke city in 1975 and Ghostbusters filmed here in the early ‘80s. Today, Tribeca is home to luxury hotels, high fashion boutiques, and hip brunch spots. Celebrities live in lofts and the tourists follow; a few years ago, I held the door open for actress Jennifer Lawrence at the Square Diner, located less than 500 feet southwest of the firehouse.
Even in the 1984 original film, Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd) is able to overlook the cobwebs and see the building’s unique charm as he slides down the fire pole for the first time. “Wow, this place is great!” he says.
Castro says he always wanted to be a firefighter. He was an NYPD officer before he switched departments, and on September 11, 2001, he was still in middle school in Brooklyn. He was born the year the sequel, Ghostbusters II, premiered (1989), hasn’t yet seen 2021’s Ghostbusters Afterlife, and “enjoyed the  remake with the ladies.” He says he “had no idea how big the first movie was” before he joined Hook and Ladder 8. He recently met some of the original cast, including Akroyd and Murray, when they filmed a promo at the firehouse. “They were pretty cool,” Castro says.
The only Ghostbusters sign not visible from the outside—a prop from the sequel—is also the only original. Castro says they hung the light-up plastic sign outside every Halloween until recently, when one of its fingers snapped off. While fans were gathering funds to repair the original sign and commission a replacement, someone donated one—so now the firehouse has three.
Patches gifted by fellow firefighters and visitors from all over the world adorn a red door in the back, and ones that pay homage to the movie are displayed on top of a call booth in the front. Representing groups from Minnesota to Mexico, the iconic ghost busts through the silhouettes of states, countries, and the Liberty Bell; it dons a cowboy hat for the Calgary Ghostbusters and an Elvis wig and glasses (for Memphis?). For $5 cash, visitors can take home a patch bearing Hook and Ladder 8’s own grinning ghost, busting through the red circle not with a paranormal proton pack, but with a more practical Halligan tool.
“We leave the front door open so people come in,” Castro says. “If the door is closed, we’re on a fire—or whoever is on duty just doesn’t want to be bothered.”
The quickest way down
As the city cleaned up around it, Castro says the 100-year-old firehouse developed serious structural issues. Designed to house a horse and carriage, “the floor was crumbling under the weight of modern fire trucks.” In an attempt to save money, Hook and Ladder Company 8 was one of 20 earmarked by the city for closure in 2011; it was saved thanks to a campaign spearheaded by the city’s future mayor, Bill de Blasio, and actor (and former FDNY firefighter) Steve Buscemi.
A $6-million-renovation, which included upgrades from the basement to the roof—and the addition of a women’s bathroom—was completed in 2018. “I think we’re going to be here for a while,” Castro says. Visitors aren’t allowed in the upper two levels, which are reserved for offices, a locker room, a bunk room, and couches. The kitchen is on the third floor: “Not convenient if you’re eating and you have to run all the way down to the truck,” Castro says.
But 14 North Moore Street was conceived and designed as a firehouse; I don’t get to use it, but as I look at the shiny gold fire pole stretching three stories above us, I understand why it was Stantz’s favorite feature. Castro is more pragmatic in his review: “We have the option to use [the pole] and some of us still do,” he says. “If we’re in the kitchen and get a call, that’s the quickest way down.”
If you go
Remember that Hook and Ladder Company 8 is an active firehouse and be respectful. If you’d like to purchase merchandise, including t-shirts, patches, hoodies, and license plates, bring cash.