I love it when the old-time New York City Magic rears its beautiful noggin to remind us all just how elegant and grand the ancient city was when stewed in its own antiquity.
Part of that temporal, New York City, Golden Age, nostalgia that still lives today can be found right in the palms of our hands and in the tips of our fingers! The old alphanumeric telephone exchanges for certain 212 area code numbers still live, and still exist in everyday service, even if we no longer consciously need to use them to make a phone call.
Another example of the old telephone exchanges found in our colloquial mindset is the Glenn Miller classic, Pennsylvania 6-5000:
“Pennsylvania 6-5000” is the phone number of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. Before area codes, the first 2 numbers were called the “Exchange Code,” and were represented by a word whose first 2 letters were used as the numbers. Thus, “Pennsylvania” represented the PE exchange code, which translates to the number 73 (P=7, E=3). The number today, complete with area code, is (212) 736-5000.
I happened upon these keen NYC exchange codes when my new actor friend Alex contacted me last week to comment on my 212 Area Code article. Alex was having some Caller ID issues with a new 212 area code phone number he is using with Google Voice.
His new number used to belong to a construction company on the Upper West Side, and when he calls certain numbers, the old construction company name comes up on the caller ID.
Alex went on to tell me his phone number is ancient — from the 1920’s — and on the exclusive SCHuyler exchange! When I asked him how he knew that, he directed me to a great database of information on New York City Alphanumeric telephone exchanges.
Alex told me my 8888 number was on the YUkon exchange and I later discovered my 3700 number was on the FAculty exchange. Both 8888 and 3700 are phone numbers from the 1950’s NYC.
I love now being able to give people my phone number as “FAculty 1-3700” or “YUkon 2-8888.” Only the old-time New Yorkers would have any idea how to call me — and I don’t think that’s a bad thing! Ha!
It’s pretty amazing to sit and think back through time and how your phone number today once belonged to someone else long ago in New York City. You wonder how often that phone number was dialed and who answered. I think a telephone number ancestry is almost as interesting — and probably more anamorphically telling — than the human footprints many choose to track back through time.
A couple of my other 212 area code phone numbers do not appear in the early alphanumeric exchange database, and I understand those prefixes are too new to have a real history — so the antiquity begins with me and, perhaps, in 70 years someone else will look back and wonder on those numbers and find this footprint: “I remember you!”