The wooden phone booths inside a private Midtown clubhouse

This week has turned out to be themed around vintage phone booths on Ephemeral New York. First came four glass beauties still extant along West End Avenue, the last remaining outdoor booths in New York City.

Next up is another old-school telephone discovery: a row of wooden phone booths—with restored wood chairs, small tables, accordion doors, and amazingly, actual phones—along a wall inside the Harvard Club, at 27 West 44th Street.

Did these booths once have pay phones? I’m not sure; perhaps part of being a club member meant the house picked up the charges. Members today, of course, would only duck into one to hold a private cell phone conversation.

These old wood phone booths are a rare find in the contemporary city, but discovering and documenting them allows us to time travel back to a much different New York City.

Until the 1980s and 1990s, every hotel and public building, as well as most restaurants, bars, and drugstores, had at least one public telephone booth along with a bulky paper phone directory for customers, clients, and locals who didn’t have a phone of their own. (And many people didn’t, often by choice. Imagine!)

The Harvard Club itself has its own historical cred. Designed by Charles McKim and opened in 1894, the clubhouse featured a “grill room,” offices, a library, and a couple of card and billiard rooms. McKim, a Harvard man and club member who took no fee for his work, modeled the Georgian-style brick and limestone exterior to resemble those in Harvard Yard, according to the Harvard Club website.

The club was expanded and renovated over the years, sometimes to create more space but also to keep up with social changes.

In 1973, the ladies’ entrance to the club was removed and women were admitted as full members. Though some Harvard graduate programs admitted women, Harvard and its sister school, Radcliffe College, didn’t merge their admissions until 1975.

[Top and second photos: Susan Schwartz; third photo: Wikipedia]

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15 Responses to “The wooden phone booths inside a private Midtown clubhouse”

  1. Marc Baum Says:

    They had pay phones

  2. GhostBikeCollector Says:

    Connor’s Bar, at 39 5th Ave. in Park Slope, had a functioning booth until the place closed in 2011. I don’t know if the owner(s) of the current gin mill at the location, McMahon’s Public House, was savvy enough to have kept it.

  3. nils norman Says:

    Dear Ephemeral New York,

    thank you for your wonderful blog,

    there used to be an original wooden phone booth inside the bar Mare Chiare aka Tony’s Nut House, 176 Mullberry street, I think its now called the Mullberry Street bar, but last time I was in there the original interior was still intact,

    best,

    Nils

    >

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Glad you enjoy it! And thanks for the Mulberry Street Bar tip, I’ve got to put that on my list!

  4. countrypaul Says:

    Nice bit of relevant history!

    L P

    On Sun, Aug 1, 2021 at 11:20 PM Ephemeral New York wrote:

    > ephemeralnewyork posted: ” This week has turned out to be themed around > vintage phone booths on Ephemeral New York. First came four glass beauties > still extant along West End Avenue, the last remaining outdoor booths in > New York City. Next up is another old-school telephon” >

  5. chas1133 Says:

    Cool. Main library has them also…

  6. China Dream Says:

    I actually remember such phone booths. Some of the grand hotels here had them.. and of course all the other phone booths that were in other commercial buildings.. not all were posh .. 🐱

  7. Greg Says:

    Bamonte’s in Williamsburg still has a booth with a working pay phone.

  8. VirginiaLB Says:

    Love these phone booth posts and photos. I remember when they were just part of the everyday scenery, not even noticed unless you needed one. I never saw one with such a comfortable chair tho!

  9. SS Says:

    NY Athletic Club on 57th Street has a row of wooden booths similar to shown here.

  10. jms Says:

    It’s been a while since I last passed through the 0th floor of the Chrysler Building, but there used to be a spiffy row of metal (Enduro KA-2 stainless steel?) phone booths down there across from the subway entrance/exit. As the Chrysler is a major NYC landmark, I’d like to think they’re still around, even if not still in service.

    They’re making it so difficult to place prank phone calls these days! 😉

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