Vintage signs in the East Village

You don’t see many references to “permanent waving” these days. This old-school beauty parlor is on East 14th near Avenue A. “OR” stood for Oregon, but why that word became an East Side telephone exchange is a mystery.

Russo’s on East 11th Street turned 100 years old this year, a tasty remnant of the Sicilian immigrant neighborhood that thrived in the early decades of the 20th century between Eighth and 14th Streets and Second Avenue and Avenue A.

The neighborhood even had its own protector, the Black Madonna of Tindari. A five-foot statue of the Black Madonna sat in the window of a storefront shrine at 447 13th Street (now the Phoenix), and once a year on her feast day, September 8th, she was paraded through the streets.

The Black Madonna’s heyday began in 1905 and ended in 1987. Check out more info about her and the Italians of the East Village here.

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4 Responses to “Vintage signs in the East Village”

  1. Bruce R. Gilson Says:

    OR was ORegon because ORchard (which was used earlier in the Lower East Side) became a sign of “slum” and they wanted something different. A lot of state names were used for exchange names: MIchigan, VIrginia, WIsconsin, and PEnnsylvania come to mind.

    The original ORChard exchange (prior to 1930 they used three letters for exchanges) became ORchard 4 in 1930. ORchard 7 was started a few years later, but didn’t last for long. All new OR exchanges in the lower East Side were named ORegon, and eventually (some time in the late 1950s), even ORchard 4 was changed to ORegon 4. My home phone numberwas ORchard 4-7847 around 1951 when we moved from Allen St. (where I’d had WAlker 5-4114); ultimately we moved to Marble Hill and had LOrraine 2-6633.

  2. PizzaBagel Says:

    It’s amazing to me how much significance was obviously paid to the naming of these old telephone exchanges. Call it “ORchard” or “ORegon” or “ORinoco.” It was just a mnemonic to get the first two digits of local phone numbers. BTW, for dialing purposes M = N = O, and P = R = S. So “OPera” and “OSteoporosis” would have worked just as well. BTW, I’m a Queensite, and my “78” number used to be known as “STillwell.” Any ideas where that came from?

  3. PizzaBagel Says:

    We have come full circle with telephone “numbers” — where they now routinely are advertised as all letters. (“1-800-MATTRESS. And leave off the last ‘S’ for ‘savings.'”)

    Back to the “OR” prefix: If the Orpheum Theater had been fortunate enough to have had such a number, what would have stopped it from advertising its number as “ORpheum …?” Would the phone company have exerted its power to put the kibosh on it?

    One more tidbit: I remember a routine on “The Abbott and Costello Show” in which a flustered Lou watches a stream of phone users get through to their parties, but he is repeatedly told by an operator that she is unable to connect him. The number he was trying to dial? ALexander 4-4444.

  4. Gorgeous neon signs illuninating the city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 110 years on First Avenue near 14th Street, when this was an Sicilian immigrant micro-neighborhood featuring Russo Brothers, Veniero, and probably hundreds of small shops lost to […]

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