Blue chairs totally belong on the police & fire call boxes

Shepherd & New Hampshire Ave, Upshur & 14th Street

So this seems like it's a thing now. 

Walking around the Petworth neighborhood, I discovered someone is attaching small blue chairs to the tops of a couple of the old fire and police call boxes. And I approve! Love the street art nature of it.  Here's a bit of back story on the historic call boxes...

While not in use for emergencies any longer, there are hundreds of these historic boxes all around the city (not all have chairs on them, though). Artists have been playing with them for years. 

I found this interesting article by Paul Williams on The House History Man blog about the fire and police boxes. Paul headed up a DDOT program with Cultural Tourism DC called “Art on Call” that "aimed to rejuvenate, celebrate, and rehabilitate the street furniture into neighborhood icons melding both art and history." According to Paul, the emergency call boxes were:

Elaborate fire and police call boxes like the pictured here are believed to have been first installed throughout Washington beginning in the 1860s ... They complimented a large system of gas street light illumination, first installed in the city streets in 1848. 

(Click to enlarge images, courtesy of House History Man)

The original call boxes had a round or octagonal cast iron base, the call box itself up on a pole, and then a taller gas-lighted lamp at the top which featured "red glass with etched white lettering [that] was illuminated from behind with a constantly burning gaslight."  

The early fire call box required the sender to break the glass, turn the key and open the door, then pull down hook inside to transmit the alarm to a central alarm office where the box number was tapped out on a bell, flashed on a red signal light, and punched out on a paper tape register much like a stock ticker. There was also a telegraph key and sounder inside each box, which the chief or chief’s driver could use to order a greater alarm or all-out fire signal to the central alarm office.

Groovy call box with bronze sculpture in Mount Pleasant.

With the implementation of the 911 system, these call boxes (which were converted to electricity from gas) were left unused. According to the Art on Call website, the city left the call boxes in place because they were too large and heavy to move. The Art on Call initiative started in 2000, in an effort to refurbish the call boxes. 

Many of these call boxes were turned into really cool street art, like the ones over in Mount Pleasant. 

Check out the articles on The House History Man blog and the Cultural Tourism DC called “Art on Call” website for more history.

And let me know if you see more blue chairs popping up around Petworth!

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.



submit to reddit

Comment with your Facebook profile: