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Fire Department NY Call Box

May 4th, 2009 · 17 Comments

All Images are the Property of and Copyrighted to Vintage Vending Inc.

firebox

Here is a New York City Fire Department call box we restored some years back. Not sure, but I would have to guess it was from the 1920’s or 30’s given what the insides looked like. You can still see these poles all over NYC, but the cool front doors and insides have been replaced with modern and efficient communication equipment.

NYC Firebox

Vintage Call Box Mechanism

What made this restoration somewhat challenging was its weight of roughly 400 pounds. Also, it was covered with many years of paint that needed to be removed. Once the paint was stripped, hundreds of little pits were revealed in the cast iron. It took hours and hours of filling these holes with Bondo that was applied by fingertip. Sanding before paint was also a very time-consuming process, especially trying to get into all the ornate details.

Antique Fluted Call Box

The lesson here is that it’s easy to underestimate the work involved when you first look at an item for restoration. It may not turn out to be as easy as you think. Sandblasting and throwing a coat of paint on an item can turn into a hundred hours if you want it done right.

This item is not for sale. We show restored items in this blog to encourage discussion, prompt questions and further the hobby of collecting and restoration. We also enjoy sharing the photos of the many items we have restored over the years.

Tags: Restorations by Vintage Vending Inc. · Unique & Unusual

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Howard Ostlund // May 7, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Hello a great restoration and piece of the old city history. I, someday, hope to find its cousin, a NYPD box and column.

    Thank you for the display for all to see
    Howard

  • 2 Ira G. Nebrasky // Jul 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I love the job you did on this call box! Do you
    where I could get one for my very own. And
    how much it would run. ( unrestored) Thanks, Ira

  • 3 vintagevending // Aug 3, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Ira,

    Ebay and Craig’s List are great resources. Things are always turning up on them. Also, a long shot would be to check with your local municipalities or highway dept. Maybe they have replaced the old call boxes and still have some laying around. Good luck!

  • 4 Alex V. from Brooklyn, NY // Aug 31, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Wow! Just, wow. You’ve done an incredible job restoring it.

    I’ve always adored the Art Nouveau details on the pedestal. (One of the few ubiquitous examples of Art Nouveau anywhere outside of Europe).

    I know my city won’t invest nearly this much to restore the remaining call boxes, but I hope they’ll put more of an effort to maintain and restore them, or replace them with authentic duplicates instead of those cheap, boxy, steel canisters.

    Keep it up!

  • 5 randy // Apr 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I have a Gamewell fire box I want to restore. Can you tell me how you stripped the paint and what type of paint you used.

  • 6 vintagevending // Apr 27, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Randy,

    The paint was removed by sandblasting. The paint used was PPG automotive paint.

  • 7 Jim // Oct 30, 2010 at 7:53 am

    I have an old almost 7 foot tall call box. I stripped the faded old paint off and went with the original red and black. All of the guts are there and unrestored. I am thinking about selling it but do not know its value. Any help would be appreciated.

  • 8 Georgia // Jan 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Writing about a call box on Bleecker Street in the Village.

  • 9 chuck // Jan 29, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Hi, nice piece. I have a Chicago or St.Louis call box that is FOR SALE. It is cast iron, weighs alot and the outside has been restored. I have the box only, no pedestal. please contact me if interested chuck@remarklandscape.com Thanks!

  • 10 tom // Nov 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    hi have identical unrestored original box as this in really nice condition, what is the value of this box .. want to sell it !

  • 11 tom // Nov 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    have unrestored identical fire box for sale! email tomheadd@aol.com

  • 12 Randall // Nov 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I’m amazed, this exact fire alarm box #3393 was once MINE around 1980 and I have the photo of it in my loft to show for it.
    I bought it from Urban Archaeology on Spring street around 1978 or 1979 for about $650.
    It weighed 901 pounds total, I sold it around 1986 to Great American Salvage in Vermont.
    At one point I gave it an ornate paint job with silver accents, but personally I prefer a natural UNrestored look, these are ANTIQUES, they should LOOK like antiques and not be painted glossy candy-assed red like a hot-rod for a race car show, seriously!
    A lot of the value of these is with their original intact paint unless it’s in such poor condition it looks like garbage, then a more appropriate color paint should be used that is not glossy and not “chinese red”, but a darker red.
    I will put the photo of this box up on my blog showing what I said is true.
    Wondered what happened to it.

  • 13 Randall // Nov 23, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Some thoughts after reading the other comments here:

    Gamewell fire Alarm boxes come up on ebay all the time in considerable numbers, the NYC system was custom designed and one-of-a-kind, the city did not use Gamewell.
    The city foolishly stripped out most of the guts and doors around 1975 and piled the whole bunch on one of the Hudson river piers near Spring street and then had a sealed bid auction. Most of the mechanical guts sold for less than $10-$15 and there was at least 1-2 dump trucks full.
    The doors were probably scrapped.
    That was when they installed the new police/fire intercom system.

    Intact freestanding posts like this one are extremely rare, they date to 1915 and almost all were retro fitted with the intercoms and the doors destroyed.
    This particular post came from Brooklyn and it weighs more than “400 pounds” as the article indicated, it weighed 900# and is in two sections.

    Re: “restoring” boxes found on ebay etc, in a word- DONT! dont make the mistake of stripping and repainting antiques, it makes them look like plastic reproduction boxes made in China. painting one of these like a sports car is NOT “restoring” anything, it’s destroying decades of impossible to replicate patina and age, even coin collectors will tell you NEVER to clean/polish old coins- the largest part of their value is exactly BECAUSE they are in an original state of aged patina.
    By all means- CLEAN the box, carefully remove rust and lubricate where needed, replace broken or missing glass with real glass not plexiglass! The round glass with the hole in it covering the mechanism is NOT difficult to make, plexiglass doesnt belong in an antique!
    Nor does bondo belong on an antique either…

    As far as how much they sell for on Ebay, expect to pay at least $500 for a Gamewell box, and for shipping costs- expect the cast-iron boxes to weigh about 70#.
    Most of the boxes on ebay now sold are the newer aluminum models from post 1940’s when cast-iron was phased out, but there are many thousands of the cast iron boxes around.

    Also expect that the seller may or may not know HOW to pack to ship something like this, and that there’s a good chance it will not be packed well. It can be severely damaged the first time UPS drops the box.
    Antique Cast iron is 99% not weldable… dont even try it.

    There are books on fire alarm boxes with pictures and price guides, I wont name the author who was selling part of his collection on ebay and had a box I wanted which happened to be pictured in his book- he wanted $500 + ship which was considerably more for the box than his (then) just published book said the price value of this was- $350-$400 ! When I asked if he would ship it free at that (much higher) price he wouldn’t even come down that estimated $35, so I told him he could keep it, and found another identical box for less.

    One last mistake to detail here- that is converting the gamewell boxes into such things like table LAMPS, in a word- DONT!
    Like a vintage Model T destroyed to make a “hotrod,” ruining an antique to make it into a frivolous something it never was meant to be is both foolish, and morally criminal.
    If oyu want a table lamp BUY a table lamp, don’t destroy a valuable antique for a novelty whose “coolness” and value will fade away in short order.

  • 14 Gabriella Israel // Nov 29, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Hi there, came across this gorgeous restoration and noticed you used Bondo Body Filler to restore it to this great condition. I am the manager for the Bondo Products Facebook page and was wondering if I could post this article and the pictures to our Facebook Page. Please email me so we can discuss this further. I know our fans would really enjoy reading this and seeing the amazing pictures. Kind regards, Gabriella Israel

  • 15 Rich // Dec 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    We have an identical box that was donated to our FD. It was in bad shape, but we had it sandblasted and repainted. It stands in the corner of our lobby. If we had the original front door it would be perfect. Can’t seem to find it any where. We are not looking for the inside parts, just the door.

  • 16 Mike G // Aug 8, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I love these old fire boxes. I still see them all over NYC and this particular model is quite old. There still have one in the Bronx with an extended torch ( 2-3 feet ) due to them not being able to put the usual amber light above. I remember regularly walking past that box 50 years ago! Beautiful!

  • 17 rick rolston // Feb 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    do you have any information on a small wind-up call box. it has a brass wind-up movement stamped “FARADAY” surronded by “stanley & patterson” and “made in the U.S.A. “On the inside door it is stamped F D N Y 4

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All Images are the Property of and Copyrighted to Vintage Vending Inc.