Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, September 23, 2016

More on the History of the Police Booth at Four Corners in Pelham Manor

This summer, Eagle Scout candidate Matthew Spana conducted an Eagle Scout Project to revitalize Pelham Manor’s Park on Boston Post Road between the Esplanade and Pelhamdale Avenue, including the historical Police Booth that stands at Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue.  Donations from The Pelham Preservation & Garden Society, DETCO, and others helped fund the project.  The donation by Pelham Preservation was used to replace the tile roof on the Police Booth, among other things.

I have written before about that Police Booth and one of its most famous occupants, John McCormick, known as “Mack the Smiling Traffic Cop” who directed traffic at the intersection during the 1910s and 1920s. See Mon., Feb. 24, 2014:  Mack, the Movie Star Traffic Cop of Pelham Manor, 1916-1928.  Today’s posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides more information about the historical Police Booth at Four Corners.

Research has not yet revealed when a police booth first was built at the busy intersection of Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue.  Clearly a booth stood at the intersection as early as 1926 and likely well before that.  Traffic cops including Pelham Manor Police officer John ("Mack") McCormick directed traffic from the very center of the intersection beginning as early as 1916 until early December 1926 when the first “traffic semaphore” in the Village of Pelham Manor was installed at the intersection.  It is likely that as early as 1916 there was a Police Booth at the intersection to provide shelter from bad weather and the cold to officers serving at the intersection.  It should be noted, however, that the booth was the equivalent of a miniature police station to which officers were posted each day -- not merely a weather shelter.

It is clear that the booth that stands today is not the original Police Booth. The Police Booth that stood at the same location was demolished during a violent car crash at the intersection during autumn of 1928.  Frank Cavallero of 65 Woodside Park, New Rochelle and Lambertus Godfrey of 4610 Garden Place, New York City crashed their cars at the intersection and demolished the Police Booth. Counter charges of reckless driving and opposing civil suits followed the crash. The booth was rebuilt.

It appears that the rebuilt Police Booth was first painted green (rather than the cream color with green trim and green tile roof that we see today).  A brief news story published in 1936 stated: 

“At Last. 

The police booth at Pelhamdale avenue and the Boston Road has finally been given a coat of green paint – and about time, say many who disliked its former faded green which lasted no one remembers how long.  Patrolman Mike Spillane did the job last week and found only one fault with it. ‘I got more of the paint on me than I did on the booth,’ he confided.” 

Source: At Last, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 3, 1936, p. 2, col. 3.

The Police Booth at Four Corners was far more than a mere shelter for a traffic cop.  It was a tiny police station in which officers were stationed to deal with all police matters.  News articles make clear that suspects were questioned in the little booth.  Police officers stationed in the booth were approached by victims of crimes.  People seeking police help ran or drove to the Police Booth.

Though police records likely would establish the precise dates the Police Booth was in active use, it is clear that officers were posted to the booth at least well into the 1940s.  Interestingly, older photographs of the booth show a light at the top of the booth.  During the recent renovation of the booth, it was discovered that the light was rusted through.  It was removed and a replacement is being sought.

As members of the Pelham Manor Police Department have pointed out to this author, that light likely was green at one time -- either a green bulb or, more likely, green lantern glass.  Today, green lights appear outside police stations for interesting historical reasons.  According to one author who has studied the issue:

“Whether the precinct house is old or new, all New York police stations should have two green lights flanking their entrance.  There’s a story explaining why, and it has to do with the first men who patrolled New Amsterdam in the 1650s.  Peter Stuyvesant established an eight-member “rattle watch” who were “paid a small sum to keep an eye on the growing, bustling town,” and look out for pirates, vagabonds, and robbers. . . . The rattle watchmen carried green lanterns over their shoulders on a pole, like a hobo stick, so residents could identify them in the dark, unlit streets. ‘ When the watchmen returned to the watch house after patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show people seeking the watchman that he was in the watch house.’ . . . ‘Today, green lights are hung outside the entrances of police precincts as a symbol that the ‘watch’ is present and vigilant.’”

Source: “The Green Lanterns Outside City Police Precincts,” Ephemeral New York Chronicling an Ever-Changing City Through Faded and Forgotten Artifacts (visited Sep. 17, 2016).

Whether the bulb or lantern ever was green or not, a green replacement would seem a fitting tribute to the Pelham Manor Police Officers, past and present, who have protected the lives and properties of Pelham Manor citizens.

The Police Booth at Four Corners Before Its Recent
Restoration. Note the Light Atop the Structure,
Likely Once a Green Light to Signify, When Lit, That an
Officer Was Present.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge

*          *          *          *          *

Adjourn Assault and Automobile Cases In Manor 
Three Cases In Pelham Manor Police Court Delayed At Request of Principals. . . . 

Counter charges of reckless driving and civil suits for damages which grew out of an accident between the cars of Frank Cavallero, of No. 65 Woodside Park, New Rochelle, and Lambertus Godfrey, of No. 4610 Garden Place, New York City, were also adjourned until Tuesday night by Judge Fetzer.  The police booth at the corner of the Boston Post road and Pelhamdale avenue was demolished in this crash.  Lee Moran, motion picture actor, is a witness in the case. . . .” 

Source:  Adjourn Assault and Automobile Cases In Manor -- Three Cases In Pelham Manor Police Court Delayed At Request of Principals, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 7, 1928, Vol. 19, No. 41, p. 11, col. 4.


Sandy Ford, chauffeur for Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Joliffe of No. 40 Beech Tree Lane, Pelham Manor, suffered a strained left shoulder on Friday night when his car was struck by a truck and turned over at the intersection of Pelhamdale avenue and the Boston road.

The truck was operated by Charles Buccino, of New Haven, Conn.  Patrolman John Doyle of the Pelham Manor police, who was on duty at the police booth on the corner, reported that Buccino drove through the traffic light which was set against him.

Mr. Joliffe made a charge of reckless driving against Buccino, who failed to appear in Pelham Manor court on Tuesday night on a plea of illness.  The trial was postponed by Judge Forrest M. Anderson until May 5th."

Source:  DRIVER HURT WHEN CAR TURNS OVER, The Pelham Sun, May 1, 1936, Vol. 27, No. 4, p. 1, col. 4.  

"Neighbor Spots Thief With Silver And Furs Stolen From Residence
Clue Given by Pelham Manor Woman Leads to Arrest of Negro Who Confesses to $1,500 Theft in Home of Mrs. Gertrude Johnson.

"Rookie Cop Nabs Youth Wanted For Questioning About Series Of Thefts

Just two days before his first month's service would have been completed, Patrolman Frank X. O'Reilly of the Pelham Manor police department made a smart capture on Wednesday afternoon.  

Patrolman O'Reilly, on duty at the police booth on the Boston Post road, spotted a youth lurking near stores at the Village Center building.  He crossed the street, whereupon the boy moved on.  The rookie policeman followed him and caught him at the Country Club.  Taking him back to the booth, he questioned him, and when his answers proved unsatisfactory, he searched the 17-year-old and found a five-inch knife and a flashlight in his pockets.  He took him to headquarters.

The youth was booked as Ezio Pace, 17, of Hartford, Conn.  Communication with Hartford police brought the information that Pace had seven times been arrested in that city and was wanted by authorities in a long series of store robberies.  

The youth was booked on a charge of vagrancy and appeared before George Lambert the same night when sentence was put over for 24 hours to allow Hartford police to take charge of the boy in Pelham Manor the next morning."

Source:  Rookie Cop Nabs Youth Wanted For Questioning About Series Of Thefts, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 28, 1941, Vol. 30, No. 48, p. 1, cols. 4-5.  

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