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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2018 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Cars Washed and Polished: 1925

Cars Washed and Polished: 1925

Washington, D.C., circa 1925. "Street scene, Massachusetts Avenue and 2nd Street N.W." A nice sort of ambient view of nothing in particular. If you listen very carefully you can hear a dog barking in the distance. View full size.

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Clank Clank Clank Clank Clank

If I recall correctly, pulling the handle on one of those boxes wound an escapement that powered a mechanism that used telegraph/telephone wires to report to the to trigger a clanky bell at central dispatch, and that was relayed to the stations in that district. The message was a series of clanks, ie: 2 - 5 - 1 which identified the box that was pulled.

Growing up in Wellesley, Mass. in the 50s, the same method was still used, except central dispatch sounded a matrix of very loud horns in the code of the box.

My mom was a bored housewife at the time, and had gotten a copy of the codes (maybe they were in the front of the phone book) and would pile us into the car and drive out to see the "action".

By the time I was 16 yrs old a friend of mine and I were riding around in a 60 Rambler Wagon with a half dozen antennas and radios (and an illegal red light we could slap on the roof) a driving all over the Boston area to see the "action".

Call boxes

For what it's worth, several of those call boxes are still around and have now been made into street art.

Fire alarm boxes

The D.C. system activated both a lamp and a gong at the station house to show where the alarm was. Around the turn of the century, there were 30 circuits.

Second and Mass today

Currently a big office building on this corner. Home to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs.

View Larger Map

Unusual Light Pole

What does it say on the unusual lamp almost at the center of the picture? Is that a police call box or something else?

[It says "Fire Alarm Box." There's another one here. - Dave]

You're right, it's a filmmakers' cliche

In a college filmmaking class 35 years ago the instructor told us that adding a low volume dog-baking audio track to a "establishing shot" (like this picture) was often done to add some interest to a scene containing no action. I think they still do it.

[Only on Elm Street! - Dave]

Adios car business

The car repair business looks as if it's been abandoned for some time, and the building may be in the process of being demolished. Note what looks like demolition debris between it and the "Cars Washed and Polished" garage.

Ghost Town

If this had been shot in the Southwest, you'd expect to see a tumbleweed rolling down the street.

Hold on a sec

The door on the car wash says keep out, and my Essex really needs a bath.

Free Air!

How long has it been since you've seen those words at what used to be called a "service station"?


Sounds like a Basset Hound! Could it be Cleo?

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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