If you’ve been around long enough (like you know who) you’ve occasionally seen these metal and glass illuminated boxes mounted on utility poles, like the one in the title card, saying: “Telephone to call police.” As a rule they were lit by two light bulbs. Not too many of them remain around town, but they used to be more frequently found.
Here’s one I found around 1999 or 2000 in the Manhattan Beach area.
This one was formerly at Woodside Avenue and 54th Street.
The remnants of one of the indicators is still found at Hollis Court Blvd. and 192nd Street in Auburndale.
In the days before 911, telephones to local police precincts were mounted on lampposts or utility poles around town, and were usually signified by the illuminated signs. These were the equivalents of fire alarms, which until recently were marked by lit cylindrical orange cylinders mounted on lampposts (now, they are marked by small red lights mounted on top of luminaires).
Here’s another marker, at East Tremont Avenue and Bronx Street, long since removed.
In the 1970s, the phones were mounted in tandem with fire call boxes. I remember Walt Frazier filmed a PSA commercial on how to use these when they first appeared.
Of course, the universality of wireless telephony now makes many of the fire call boxes redundant, and the police phones had mostly disappeared by the late 1960s.
Turns out the Gamewell box seen above is a rarity. I’ve only seen three in the city, and this one was one such. ForgottenFan Al Trojanowicz:
Most alarm boxes in New York are of their own custom designs, and where a mechanical box was converted to ERS, special adapters were made to allow the more modern voice box innards to replace the former inner electro-mechanical box. Of all boxes, finding a Gamewell box on the street was indeed a rarity. In my time I only saw 2 (both in Queens). Like all other box housings, FDNY was able to adapt a Gamewell shell to accept ERS innards.
The odd thing about this hybrid is that atop the box is a noise-making device to call attention when the mechanical box is pulled. I believe these were mechanically linked and tripped when the box was pulled. Also note a sliding cover to allow a key to be inserted to rewind the device. I remember the Newark NJ Fire Dept had these on some boxes, and the local term was “growler”. I don’t know what Gamewell called them.
The really odd thing is that I think it is impossible for the push-button electronic ERS box to trigger this device, thus it is one of the rarest boxes I ever saw in the City. Last time I walked by, it was still there, though its paint badly faded.