Fire Call Box
A Fire Call Box

photo courtesey of The Historical Society of Washington, DC

Police Call Box
A Police Call Box

photo courtesey of The Historical Society of Washington, DC

What is a Call Box?

The Sheridan-Kalorama Call Box Project is part of a larger Washington, DC city-wide call box restoration effort.

These 19th century police and fire call boxes were used to call for help -- to summon the fire department or allow the “beat cop” to report in to the precinct house. The fire and police call boxes have different shapes to help users quickly distinguish one from the other. Seen from the front, the fire boxes are rectangular with triangular pediments, while the police boxes are oval in shape.

Spotting a fire, citizens would rush to the nearest fire box to alert a nearby fire station. With the police boxes, an hourly report was expected from the policeman on the street beat – but never from the same box since that would signal that the policeman wasn’t walking his beat!

The call boxes remained in use until the 1970s when technological advances rendered them obsolete. They were replaced by the new 911 system. The city considered removing them from neighborhood streets, but they were rescued by forward thinkers involved with Cultural Tourism DC who realized that it would be more costly to remove the call boxes than to restore them in such a way that they could become “mini museums” to tell the story of neighborhoods across the city.