Public Art – Art on Call, District of Columbia

Georgetown’s Call Box restoration project is part of a city-wide effort to rescue the District’s abandoned fire and police call boxes. This project has identified more than 800 boxes for restoration citywide. Neighborhood by neighborhood, they are now being put to new use as permanent displays of local art, history and culture.

Fire alarm boxes were originally painted red and installed in the District after the Civil War. In most boxes, the alarm was activated by opening a door on the front of the box and pulling a lever. An automatic telegraph system transmitted the box number to a central office that directed the closest fire station to dispatch a fire truck to the vicinity of the call box. The system began to decline in the 1960s with the advent of two-way car radios and walkie-talkies. The alarms were finally turned off in the 1970s and replaced with today’s 911 emergency system.

Art on Call is a project of Cultural Tourism DC with support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, DC Creates Public Art Program, District Department of Transportation, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development.