Posted by Jay Livingston
I don’t know why I became briefly obsessed with the 1940 Manhattan phone book when a Facebook friend linked to it yesterday, but I did. Nostalgia perhaps, though I wasn’t living in New York in 1940. I wasn’t living at all. But seeing the exchanges with names instead of numbers (area codes, of course, had not yet been invented) makes it just a little easier to imagine what life in New York was like three quarters of a century ago. 475 tells you nothing; GRamercy 5 evokes a neighborhood.*
I couldn’t find my wife’s family. In 1940 not everyone had a phone. Perhaps they didn’t get theirs (WAdsworth 8) until later. Then I went looking for other people who might have been living in New York then.
(Click for a larger view.)
You could just pick up the phone and call J.D. Salinger,** who might prefer not to have been bothered, or Coleman Hawkins, who would probably want to go out for a few drinks.
Estee Lauder lived just a few blocks from me, and we shared an exchange – ENdicott 2, (The elegant Endicott Hotel, built in the 1890s, was just a few blocks north.)
You can browse the entire phone book here.
* “I know the last part of your number – 6160,” I said years ago to a fellow West Sider, “but I can never remember – is it 479 or 749.”
“749,” he said as though it were obvious. “RIverside 9.”
That was decades ago. I still remember it.
** “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
Back in the day, Boston (and most other places) had similar systems, and it was pretty easy to remember numbers CA7-6146 was us: Capital 7 (for Beacon Hill). Andrew ate 8000 was one from an ad. When I was in grad school, they ran out of sensibly namable numbers, and my parents' new number was 367-6385, which I couldn't remember for the life of me, and it always irritated to have to look it up to call home. I showed it to a math major friend, and with absolutely no hesitation, he goes "Huh, you can't possibly forget that number. 36763 is a palindrome and 85 is 17 times 5 and multiples of 17 are rare beasts amongst two digit numbers."ReplyDelete
I hate mathematicians.