Silent Alarm: Rochester’s Rare Ringer

If you’ve ever found yourself walking by the stylish Art Deco building on Andrews Street that now houses the Municipal Archives, you may have noticed the large red apparatus sitting atop its roof.  And you may ask yourself, what is that beautiful machine? And you may ask yourself, how did it get there?


As it happens, the beautiful machine in question is a holdover from the Cold War Era that has graced the roof of 414 Andrews Street since 1955.

Air raid sirens formed an integral part of Civil Defense planning in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Rochester witnessed its share of alarm systems as officials deemed the city a potential Communist target due to its manufacturing and defense industries.

In June 1952, New York State’s Civil Defense Director Clarence Heubner warned local residents, “Rochester is only 9 1/2 hours flying distance from Russia. The only thing that’s needed to launch one of those planes is word from Joe Stalin.”

That decade, several sirens of varying sizes and sonic strengths were tested at strategic points around the city, such as Cobbs Hill and what was then the Fire Bureau Headquarters at 315 Cumberland Street (now 414 Andrews Street).

Many of these sirens proved insufficient in some way or another—either their output was obfuscated by certain buildings or they failed to be heard inside individual homes, essentially negating their function as a warning system.

In October 1955, Monroe County Civil Defense Director Robert Abbott proclaimed that the city would be testing the “world’s largest air siren.” Abbott boasted that the alarm in question, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren, “will produce the loudest noise ever devised by man for a sustained output by mechanical means.”

The test of the 138dB siren, launched on November 8th proved successful, if unenjoyable to some ears.


Message transmitted to these receivers at School 11.

Coincidentally, the County purchased two of the Chrysler sirens not long before the local Office of Civil Defense began to phase out air raid testing. And while “duck and cover” exercises experienced a revival during the Cuban Missile Crisis era, interest in and funding for Civil Defense started to wane by the late 1960s.

The following decade, the unit, now refocused on disaster relief, was rebranded the Monroe County Office of Emergency Preparedness and the region’s 584 fallout shelters were emptied.

And just as the countless faded fallout shelter signs donning buildings across America serve as a reminder of life during Cold Wartime, so too does the small collection of silent sirens still perched atop formerly strategic structures.

Though the majority of air raid sirens were either scrapped or sold to museums and collectors, some were left in place, often because the cost of their removal proved greater than their scrap value.

The big red ringer on Andrews Street is one of only a dozen or so Chrysler Air Raid Sirens in the United States that has remained in its original location same as it ever was, making the Cold War relic a unique local artifact.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on May 31, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. More about the Chrysler Air Raid Siren

  2. I see what you did there.

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