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Video: Everything you need to know about D.C.’s fire and police call boxes

This new Vox video goes in-depth about the boxes’ history and purpose

Throughout Washington, D.C., residents and tourists will see colorful cast-iron boxes on the streets, but what are they? And why are they there?

Curbed sister site Vox unveiled a brand new video about the fire and police call boxes that dot the streets of Washington, D.C., answering these same questions with additional details on how their purpose has been revitalized over the years.

In their explainer video, Vox reveals that the 19th century boxes were installed so that the public could notify the police and fire departments of any emergencies. Once the telephone was invented, though, the call boxes were utilized less and less, and by the late 1970s, D.C. abandoned the boxes and removed the telephones that were previously inside them.

Rather than remove the structures altogether, Cultural Tourism D.C. launched the “Art on Call” initiative, which allowed artists to paint and sculpt them into decorative street elements.

As Vox Video Producer Coleman Lowndes says in the video, “Even though they’re not saving lives anymore, they continue to serve their communities as carriers of culture and local history.”

DC’s abandoned fire and police call boxes, explained [YouTube]