WHEN TELEPHONE NUMBERS MEANT SOMETHING.

Roger Angell, in this week’s New Yorker, discusses the old-time telephone exchanges, with their evocative names:

Growing up, I began to apprehend that Manhattan telephone exchanges, which were geographically assigned, were a guide map and social register to my delightful city. West Side school friends of mine could be reached at the MOnument or CAthedral or RIverside exchange. My father worked at the WHitehall exchange, down near Wall Street, and my mother at the mid-West Forties’ BRyant 9. BUtterfield 8 was just south of us on the Upper East Side, with TRafalgar, REgent, and RHinelander not far away. When my parents were divorced and my mother moved to East Eighth Street, she became a SPring 7, and neighbors and stores and movie theatres in that neighborhood had lively ALgonquin, CHelsea, and WAtkins handles. If you called up one of the Times Square movie theatres, to find the next showtime for “Cimarron” or “Rasputin and the Empress,” the exchange was probably LOngacre.

(In explanation of that last name, I should point out that Longacre Square was the original name for Times Square, before the Times moved there.) There is a site that collects such exchange names; here is their New York list.

Comments

  1. Whoa. I need to go to NY. This made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  2. Something completely different: how do you deal with hat hair?

    I would love to wear a hat every day. A few years ago my wife bought me a black suede fedora for winter, and the year after a fine panama hat.

    But the mess a hat makes of my hair! How did entire societies deal with this horror in earlier decades?!

  3. The answer to the last question is easy: they slathered it with greasy kid stuff until nothing short of a tornado would discombobulate it. Take a look at Fearless Fosdick’s shiny helmet of hair, unruffled by the hat he is doffing. That, however, is not an option that arouses any enthusiasm in me (or likely you). What I do is try to find a private moment to comb it down as soon as possible after removing the headgear, and not obsess too much about it. It’s annoying, but the feeling of suave sophistication that comes to the hat-wearing man is well worth it.

    A fine panama hat, eh? Man, that’s a gift; I hope you appreciate your wife!

  4. By the way, if you’re not familiar with the tune Fearless is quoting (“Get Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie!”), it wasn’t just your ordinary commercial jingle; it was wildly popular, and so it should have been, since it was written by Tadd Dameron! (Woody Herman is co-credited with the tune; I don’t know if he actually helped write it or was just taking a bandleader’s droit de gimme.) You can hear it by going here, scrolling down almost to the bottom, and clicking on the audio link. You’ll be humming it for days!

  5. I sure do appreciate my wife!

    Noooooo … I can’t say the “shiny helmet of hair” appeals to me. My dad did that when I was still a small child, but even he stopped sometime in the 70s.

    So I guess it’s going to have to be furtive grooming.

    The song: heh.

  6. SkipChurch says:

    Mine was TR-3. Trafalgar.
    Thanks for the memories…I was trying to recall these, and only got five.
    You left out DIgby though. That was wall Street I think.

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