Random sightings of old phone exchange signs

The traditional two-letter phone number prefix was officially abandoned in the 1960s.

From time to time, as readers of this site know, they sometimes reveal themselves in faded ads and randomly found signs, like these two below.


I’m not exactly sure what an asbestos curtain was, but American Stage Equipment sold them from an East Harlem office South Bronx office.

The CY exchange is new to me, but according to this guide, it stands for cypress, which places it in the Bronx. The sign hangs in an antiques shop in Brooklyn.


ST could have stood for stagg or sterling in Brooklyn, stillwell in Queens, or Stuyvesant in Manhattan. It was found on a Flatiron building, so Stuyvesant is a good bet.

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18 Responses to “Random sightings of old phone exchange signs”

  1. wendy Says:

    I think you jogged my memory. I believe my grandparents, who lived in The Bronx, once had a Cypress telephone number!

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Cool! I wonder what it meant; so many of these names stood for landmarks in the area.

  3. Buzz Says:

    An asbestos curtain is a heavy fire safety curtain mostly found in large theaters. (Currently, fire safety curtains are fiberglass or iron, but asbestos used to be most common.) It is located just upstage of the proscenium, and is meant to be lowered, either manually or automatically, in the event of fire in order to seal off the stage area and thus to protect the audience. Local fire codes may require that this curtain be lowered and raised in audience view per performance in order to reassure patrons that the curtain is present and operable. Many of the 600 deaths in the horrific 1903 Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago were due to the fact their asbestos curtain got stuck halfway down when fire broke out above the stage.

  4. zevstar Says:

    an asbestos curtain was/is for fire protection in theaters. it drops down separating the auditorium section of the theater from the stage and backstage areas. i believe theu are automatic now…they used to be manually dropped.

  5. Frank Says:

    We lived in mid-town Manhattan on the west side. Our’s was BR9-2135. BR stood for Bryant.

  6. Gary H Vellenzer Says:

    A theatre is shaped like a fireplace, with the flys above the stage acting as a chimney. As a result, a small fire will become a big fire very quickly. A fireproof curtain breaks the air flow and lets a small fire stay a small fire.

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you all for the asbestos curtain explanations. Guess they don’t make them anymore, considering the potential for lawsuits.

  8. Niki Wolf Gilbert Says:

    FI (for Fieldstone) and LA (for Laurelton) Queens….scary that I remember that!:-)

  9. Steven Says:

    Meanwhile, whoever occupies 805 East 134th Street today is keeping a low profile.


    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Wow! Maybe there are hundreds of unsold asbestos curtains stacked up inside, rotting away.

  10. Mickey Says:

    My phone number when growing up started with LO9 – for Lorraine. I remember a few businesses adopted the name.

  11. What did the FA phone exchange stand for? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] is my best (but probably not accurate) guess. These old two-letter telephone exchanges are fun to find in hidden pockets of New York […]

  12. mvalspeed Says:

    TO2-8373; I haven’t remembered that number in over 50+ years!! TO=Tompkins, used along the West Side around 138th Street. Not to mention, the Loew’s Theater on 146th and Broadway, that would open their fire curtains at the start of each movie showing…

  13. Roz Says:

    I lived in Brooklyn. Exchanges I recall DI for Dickens, CL for Cloverdale. Wish I could remember some of the others because there were lots of them

  14. Mario Torres Says:

    In the Bronx, where I was raised, it was TI for tivoli. Nice article and memories. I still fondly recall my phone number that began with the two-letter phone exchange!!

  15. Adam Says:

    RA in Queens for RAvenswood

  16. KAREN Says:

    My dad lived in East Flatbush and told me his exchange began with NR for Navarre

  17. Dan Says:

    In 1939 MI 9-9500 was an emergency number in Brownsville NY (according to my mother). Why so many digits? And what exchange is MI?

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