An East Side sign with an old New York address

Outside a pretty walkup building at 242 East 60th Street is a postwar-style sign for an apartment building called Ambassador Terrace, a white-brick highrise in the East 40s.

I’m sure the interiors and lobby at the Ambassador have undergone upgrades over the years. But you wouldn’t know it from the sign, with its wonderful two-letter prefix on the management office’s phone number.

LO for Longacre, a reminder that Times Square was Longacre Square until 1904.

What’s also great is the two-digit zip code: 18.

These short postal codes were instituted in the 1940s to help speed mail delivery. They were replaced by the 5-number zip codes we use today in the 1960s.

Here’s more examples of old phone exchanges found around the modern city. And postal codes too: this one was hiding on East 10th Street.

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30 Responses to “An East Side sign with an old New York address”

  1. Ty Says:

    I think those two digits after the city name the address were called zones. They still exist as the last two digits of your zip code which was introduced the mid sixties.

    There was a commercial for Gimbles upolstery I think where a fast talking man incessantly barked call Murray Hill 7-7500 over and over. It permanently occupies a part my brain that could have been used for calculus or world peace or something.

    • JMG Says:

      Correct about “zones” and their incorporation into zip codes. I had a summer job in the mid-60’s sitting with a row of other teens updating a firm’s records to include zip codes. It was easy for NYC customers — you just had to put “100” in front of the zone. For addresses elsewhere, there were big books that told you the zip code for every address in the country.

  2. Zoé Says:

    Lol – my (absolutely hideous externally) new law 1920 tenement house on E.First (@ 2nd Ave) was called ‘The Colony’. It was a boarding house for Jewish actors in the Second Ave Jewish theatres (AKA Jewish Broadway). But I don’t know if that inspired the name. It was painted in gold script on the glass above the outer door. (If I remember the font correctly. Definitely gold though).

    Get ready for an army of people writing in to tell you their (or their aunt’s or their grandparents’…) old number code.

    I’m in the midst of carving up my mom’s old tattered McCall’s Needlework & Crafts mags to salvage some instructions & it is such a blast seeing/researching the old addresses & codes!

    An entire stretch along Madison Square was full of wool & knitting & button establishments. Plus needlework & leather handbags etc. It was basically a Needlework district. (Vs. 7th Ave design). Lion Brand Yarns was there for example. (They moved a few years ago – I think to the meatpacking district). I wonder what the ‘name’ of the district was (?). (In Newyorkese).

    A few wool businesses were in Soho. (Wasn’t one called The Wool Building or Fabric Building etc.? It is now expensive lofts. At some point it had a massive fire. I did the research then forgot most of it. It was really interesting though).

    Basically I’ve become obsessed w/ all the Schmatte suppliers that were in the City. (Not many were in Brooklyn or Queens & zero in Staten Island).

    A LOT of them were women self employed in some business of their own. And when I look up the address it is clear some were operating out of an apartment in the Bronx or elsewhere. When I search further many of them are refugees from Nazi Germany either post 38 or post WWII. (On refugee lists). I’ve becoming really fascinated by these knitting/craft magazines geared toward women from the late 1950s-early 70s!

    There are a lot of the early postal codes (less phone numbers). Maybe I should start making notes for people here ⭐️

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      The Colony…that would make a fascinating ENY post!

      • Zoé Says:

        My brother’s bandmate was the super who lived in the cellar ‘apartment’ for awhile. (See my recent comment about my very briefly making a bedroom out of the coal room & platform bed out of the coal platform down there – as in the Jakob Riis photos). There were several large barber chairs bolted into the floor in the front room. There were no other signs of a barber shop; so I wondered if the actors in the Yiddish 2nd Ave theatre used them for hair & makeup application (?). The address is 31 East First Street. The tale of it being a rooming house for ‘Jewish Broadway’/2nd Ave Yiddish theatre was from elderly people in the building that had told the story to one of my neighbours who was there before me.

        A horror film was filmed on the second floor in the early 70s.

        Also the guitarist from the band the Waitresses – Chris Butler – lived on the first floor briefly as my neighbour.

  3. nikellerose Says:

    Why does the walk up building in the East 60s have a sign for a building from the East 40s? Typo?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Great question. I assume it’s a holdover from when a company affiliated with Ambassador Terrace operated there. I can tell you that no building called the Ambassador is on that stretch of East 60th Street that I could find.

      • Bob Says:

        According to “Living It Up: A Guide to the Named Apartment Houses of New York” by Thomas E. Norton, Jerry E. Patterson
        (Atheneum, 1984), Ambassador Terrace was located at 242 East 60th Street. Google snippet view quotes the description as “A small gray ‘brownstone’ with a new entrance and a somewhat pretentious name considering its size.”

  4. Ty Says:

    Building management often advertise their other properties to prospective tenants who came to see that one.

  5. Timothy Grier Says:

    I remember growing up in fifties and sixties NYC thinking white brick buildings seemed so modern and cool. Now they look dirty and dated.

    • Zoé Says:

      I hear you Timothy. Sort of a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’ thing.

      • Zoé Says:

        *Correction: Tiffany’s

        I knew that; but didn’t write it because *why* the greengrocer’s apostrophe?! Lesson learned: Proofcheck my own mind.

  6. Ty Says:

    To me these while glazed brick buildings have a close tie to the Camelot era and its failed promise. That is not to detract from the feelings during that one bright moment. These buildings were to introduce new-world order and cleanliness to a dirty city. Naive Americans they used to call us.

    • Zoé Says:

      Great observation Ty! They remind me of Doris Day/Rock Hudson film set design. (Who was the art director?). Or when people put slightly bilevel floors in their mid-century modern living rooms (When did that begin & why?) – filled w/ faux Asian art & Scandinavian Modern furniture. And wallhangings & wall screens of various Mid Century Modern design. (This kind of design is all over my mother’s needlework/craft magazines from the late 50s-early 70s I am working on preserving the remains of now. As mentioned from a different angle in my previous comment).

      • Ty Says:

        Modern appealed most strongly in my growing up to Jewish families who wished to erase the past with only future focused art and architecture. But healing only occurs when you face the past not avoid it. Clean lines and abstract forms don’t make it go away.

        I know that expensive open plan houses of the time separated the living spaces by level not walls hence the “sunken living room.”

        But, I believe, that was an offshoot of the necessity of split level houses which were designed to accomodate automobile storage on the same footprint of an older pre-auto centric house. Automobiles representing freedom and individuation.

        Googie architecture was built for automobile-centric Los Angeles where attractive shop windows were replaced by entire buildings designed to attract you. McDonalds golden arches was the most famous example and the Jetson’s celebrated this style more than any other form of art. (Yes, I said art).

        This whole concept failed. LA is desperately building a subway system to prevent choking on its own success. Twice voters agreed to be taxed to build it.

        Every brick in New York City will set someone off on tangents of memories, thoughts and feelings and white glazed bricks have set me there. Kind of like Proust’s madeleines except you’d break your teeth and probably be held for psychiatric observation.

      • Zoé Says:

        I really get this. My completely traumatised Red Cross refugee Displaced Person / bombed by Allies / aunt murdered by Nazis / narrowly escaped being raped & murdered by a Soviet Soldier / Bauhaus loving mother; sat at our Scandinavian Modern dining table wearing a thousand yard stare.

        As did her mother / my grandmother; albeit in my room; in a chair staring out the window – as her larger room did not face the road or get light.

        My mother hated folky Victorian German and/or European design (all the painted flowers & gilt & curling motifs that had hung on too long).

        Our house looked like the inside of a goathair tent filled w/ antique Oriental carpets & saddlebags made into cushions w/ Scandinavian & American modern thrown in. Like the iconic Eames lounge chair. She married my very dark coloured Asiatic looking Lebanese/Syrian/Arab dad for the same reasons.

        My grandmother’s large room was another story. Grey even light & oil paintings & an enormous antique sleigh bed she bought after being brought to Grand Rapids Michigan; from an elderly man who owned a furniture co there & had long before had it made as a present to his wife for their own honeymoon. The large matching curved front dresser w/ a beveled swiveling mirror was a piece of simple minimalist Biedermeier style art. That room was like a faerytale room. Complete w/ big puffy silk eiderdowns covering the bed & massive European continental size square pillows which my grandmother sat in front of looking like some elderly white haired Queen.

        No amount of design or art resolves trauma. But it is a profound comfort to many. I hear you though.

        “sunken living room” – Thanks! I was searching my mind for the term. Lol. “the sunken place” (from horror film ‘Get Out!’).

      • Zoé Says:

        PS Ty: Still somebody somewhere in the City has probably chewed on a brick still attached to its building. Maybe not on purpose. Perhaps whilst being robbed.

      • Zoé Says:

        PS 2 for Ty:

        “LA is desperately building a subway system to prevent choking on its own success.”

        Brilliant. Are you channeling Tom Wolfe now that he has passed to the spirit world?

      • Ty Says:

        I just found out he died. But his snarky little volume From Bauhaus to Our House taught me more about mid century modern and is appeal and origins and by extension post war mentality than much heavier academic tomes.

      • Zoé Says:

        Wow Ty – I didn’t even know TW wrote a book like that & titled that. Thanks! I was only thinking of my mom & her modernist thinking father/my grandfather & their design taste (re. having written “Bauhaus”).

        When my mom was ten – the year Hitler came to power – my family moved from their Berlin apartment (old not modern – w/ an antique traditional built in ceramic tile wood or anthracite burning parlour stove); to a rural lakeside village in Greater Berlin. (Think Brooklyn. As it has since been further incorporated into Berlin proper).

        As my grandfather refused to have a telephone at home; once he left his business in the city at the end of the day nobody could contact him. Something that came in handy when Hitler’s Reichstag was down the street in Berlin proper.

        He was from Frankfurt am Main where various mercantile fairs were & are still held. Whilst there he saw a Walter Gropius (Bauhaus cofounder & architect & designer) prefab house made of copper. He bought a model & had it constructed in this lakeside town. It was a shiny copper colour & then turned green. I think the copper shingles worked a bit like solar panels also. (It is still there. My family escaped the Soviet occupied east side long before the wall; but their house was kept in their possession. Astonishingly. So my mother travelled there to sell it after the wall came down. I looked at it online & it looks exactly the same! Including the front gate…).

        My grandparents friends (also in the office machine business) lived at the other end of the large body of water; in a house designed by Mies van der Rohe (sp?). It is now an art and/or design museum. (I’ve forgotten which).

        As the Pope said “The internet is a gift from God.” Lol…

  7. Ty Says:

    To me Gropius, Van de Rohe, Corbusier all were trying to design themselves out of post Great War European chaos. Europe as a body was a failed state and they knew it.

    These designers were elites, all of them, and pretended to have the interests of “workers” at mind. But what they really wanted was to use the idea simplicity and purity to maintain their endangered aristocracy and thought the concept would rescue their advantage by appealing to every European’s desperate desire for safety and order. From this Hitler’s appeal of racial purity idea was born. Mies was a Nazi for a spell.

    In the United States dumb but shrewd wins ever time. We are not stupid but definitely undereducated. So pitch these glass walls looking at glass walls to our wealthy as a cost saving measure and you got them. They will figure out how to pitch this to the great unwashed and they have done so successfully. Look at Hudson Yards.

    I have to admit that mid-century modern is very attractive to many. If you enjoy being naked in a glass house then this is your style. I’m planning a trip to Palm Beach just to drive around and look at them. (The houses not the naked rich people.) But thinking that facile simplicity will solve our problems in a vey complicated world only serves to bring out our inner Nazi.

    One white glazed brick told me this.

    • Zoé Says:

      *Very* interesting points Ty!

      Those glass houses only worked in places like New Canaan where people had acreage & could hide behind trees.

      My childhood friend lived in one. Her architect father designed it. He was from Turkey. (Another architectural/political analysis may be required).

      Now that I have been Marie Kondo-ing my place ridding it of *anything* rococo or w/ a whisper of curl or Marie Antoinette-ish (toiles of fake peasants); what would replace that… which would not align me w/ Nazis or Despots or 70s exibitionists?

      My place will be empty. I await your response… whilst I sit outside on a tree stump eating from a paper plate & plastic spoon…

  8. Ty Says:

    Marie Antionette and Mies were from the same mold.

    Marie Kondo has become famous on a simple seemingly obvious concept. The objects you keep represent you. Give away the ones that you don’t feel represent you and what is left is you, like it or not. Even if you throw away all objects, as my father did, that in itself says much about you and your fear of knowing yourself.

    Rococo or stark modern is not the point so much as is whether or not that reflects you. Feel free to experiment.

    The problem is when anyone imposes their narrow aesthetics and beliefs on the rest of us because they happened to have attracted money.

    Yes, there is an advantage to a totalitarian aesthetic where the state hires the best there is. But that usually ends up in firestorms consuming thousands of people and those very objects.

    Moderne in the woods is fine because bears are mostly focused on protein and not aesthetics. But throw your mutually reflecting glass walls at the rest of us simply because you can afford it? That’s a problem.

    • Zoé Says:

      Lol! More really interesting observations Ty. Some requiring their own university courses. I may print these out & bind them. You’re the E.B.White of Ephemeral’s threads.

      “throw away all objects… fear of knowing yourself”

      Very interesting take on what is otherwise called ‘simplifying’. It gives that word new meaning.

      I used to have to mercilessly cull my things (using the same method as Marie Kondo years before she had ‘invented’ it) because I moved from tiny studio apartment to tiny studio apartment. (Aside from one beautiful one bedroom Bay Ridge prewar…). My mother gave me the gift of a toaster oven once & I had to tell her I did not have a counter. Or a kitchen table.

      And also regardless of square footage it was the constant fleeing from nightmare plumbing & ceilings crashing in (a NYC plumbing right of passage) causing me to move so much; that required me to own as little as possible.

      Thankfully in NY back then we would just neatly fold & stack things in boxes w/ room enough to sort through them without people being forced to litter & everything would be gone in a few hours. The whole City was like a giant flea market! Half the time someone was asked where some beautiful thing was from the answer was ‘I found it on the street’. Something tells me those days are over.

  9. David H Lippman Says:

    We should call that number and see if it still works.

    • Zoé Says:

      Thinking of daring you to do that David; but it may be a new form of ‘cyberstalking by the history obsessed’…

      • Ty Says:

        It’s out of service. Belonged to Leon Abramson of Paragon Mutual Investors Service at 750 7th Ave. Leon passed away in 2015 at age 90.

        Google tells me that it has a social media secure of zero.

      • Zoé Says:

        I should have known you would pick up the torch Ty. (Lol – for some reason this came into my ‘junk’ file. Almost missed it; but I didn’t because I enjoy looking there for funny fishing scam sentences).

        I wonder if Mr.Abramson had that phone all those years! Rest In Peace dear Mr.Abramson🌲

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Yes, indeed.

  10. countrypaul Says:

    Zones were two digits; the term zip code was an acronym (for I forget what) introduced c. 1962. Also, named phone numbers were given up because they ran out of nameable exchanges. You couldn’t have YL-1 or JQ-5, for example, but 951 and 575 worked. Unfortunately, a certain neighborly charm was lost in the process.(Of course, some people, instead of dialing MU for Murray Hill, tried dialing MH….)

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