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Going Red – Saving Boston’s Historic Fire Alarm Boxes

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Call Box 1231 - Photo courtesy of Boston Fire Historical Society.

If you’ve stood on a corner in Beacon Hill, the North End, Downtown, the Back Bay or other parts of Boston, you may have noticed one of 2,200 historic Boston Fire Alarm boxes darting the city’s streetscapes. Painted red and often mounted on top of a classically inspired pedestal--some with a red lens gas light and others with a bright red globe--these ubiquitous fire alarm boxes were once activated via telegraph signal. With the advances in new technologies, the red boxes are now obsolete and the city is looking to save them.

According to the City of Boston’s website, the nation’s first fire alarm boxes were designed by Bostonians in 1852 and by the 1880s, these were on almost every corner of neighborhoods and cities across the country. In a city where historic preservation has been a major player in shaping how Boston looks and feel, these red fire boxes are as much a part of the historic fabric as the buildings here are. I think it’s only natural that the Boston Fire Department is looking to save all 2,200 fire boxes--saving history one fire alarm box at a time.

In a joint effort with the City of Boston Fire Department, the Department of Innovation Technology (DoIT) and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the city has put out a Request for Information "seeking alternative technologies and solutions that change the way the public interacts with street fire alarm boxes." At the moment, the city is only seeking ideas explore ways tech innovation could improve the 2,200 fire boxes in the city. Because these are historic pieces of street furniture, they must be kept as intact as possible.

Here's my idea: What if the city turns these boxes into cellphone charging stations powered by solar energy? This way, if I'm on my way to a museum and my batteries are running low, I can always stop for thirty minutes at a corner where one of these red boxes is located, pay a minimal fee and recharge my battery.

What's your idea? What would you do to save these historic fire alarm boxes?

Ideas need to be submitted to the City of Boston by February 22, 2013 to be considered. To read the full RFI, click here.


More information on the history of these red fire alarm boxes is found here: Boston Fire Historical Society.

 

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About Author

Anulfo AKA The Evolving Critic is a preservationist and blogger with a strong interest in architectural history, urbanism, and the parallels between fashion and architecture. He holds degrees in Tourism Planning and Development from the University of New Hampshire and in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University. Anulfo has written for the Boston Society of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He oversaw BR&S's blog, Our Daily Red, from 2012-14.

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