Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a Call Box?
On many street corners throughout Washington, you will see an elaborate iron base with a box mounted on top. Some have a yellow light on a long pole on top of the box. Some are of a basic house shape; a few, harp-shaped; and still others are basically a rectangle with rounded corners. These are police and fire call boxes – remnants of a time before home phones were widespread. If there was a fire, someone could run to the nearest one and turn in the alarm. Although originally painted black with red or blue boxes on top, more recently they have been gray with red (fire) or blue (police) highlights. The police call boxes had a different purpose. They were used by a patrol officer to notify a central command center that his patrol was proceeding without problems and that no assistance was necessary. There was also a feature to allow passersby to call for a wagon or other help. These were painted blue.
2. So what is the Call Box Project (aka Art on Call)?
This is a city-wide program to identify, protect, renovate, and reuse the city’s fire and police call boxes, that have been abandoned. The Department of Transportation is responsible for stripping lead-based paint from the call boxes, repairing and priming them. (Unity Construction started this work in the fall 2002.) Cultural Tourism DC (formerly DC Heritage Tourism Coalition) will coordinate community efforts to convert the boxes into neighborhood icons – showcases for the unique history and culture of each community. The DC Council for Arts and Humanities is also involved.
3. A showcase for history and culture? What do you mean?
Each box will have a theme that reflects something about the neighborhood – some one who lived there, some building, some tradition (like a block party, for instance), or a more “generic” topic, such as trees on Capitol Hill. Artists will decorate the box exteriors and create “plaques” or pieces of art using old photographs, quotes from long-time residents, poems that capture the spirit of the place, or notes on historic events or personalities. These will be affixed within the boxes.
4. I’d like to get involved. What can I do?
Each individual box will need an artist to work on the design, of course, but each box will also need someone to research or write the information, raise funds to manufacture the plaque or art work, coordinate all the workers, paint the final coats, and monitor the condition of the box after it has been finished. We also need people to help with community-wide tasks – getting out notices of meetings and information about the program to groups, work with schools if they are interested in the project, map the location of the boxes so a brochure can be prepared later.
5. There’s a box just down the street. Can I work on that one?
We’re encouraging people to join with their neighbors to work on boxes. Before you begin, contact the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (Nancy Metzger, 546-1034, firstname.lastname@example.org) to “register” for that box. CHRS is serving as the clearinghouse for greater Capitol Hill and as the conduit for city and contributed funds. If others are already interested, you’ll be given contact information so all can work together.
6. After registering for a box – what do I do then?
7. What exactly will the city be looking for in the proposals?
8. I still have questions, who do I call?
If you have questions about the city-wide program, call Cultural Tourism DC at 661-7581 or e-mail.
If you have questions or want to be included in the Capitol Hill effort, contact Nancy Metzger at 546-1034 or by e-mail.
Database of Historic Building Permits, Squares 1000–1125
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