A Yorkville faded sign with a two-letter old phone exchange

The Little Wolf Cabinet Shop is a longtime fixture on the upper reaches of First Avenue at about 82nd Street. The shop also has another space on a nearby side street—and it’s the sign above this space that sparked my interest.

An old New York City phone exchange! The number of these pre-1970s exchanges still visible on signs and in ads is dwindling fast. I’d actually photographed this one for a 2011 ENY post, and the sign is, sadly, much more faded 11 years later.

RE stood for Regent, a Yorkville/Upper East Side exchange. I still haven’t figured out what Regent was though, and why the name was used. Could Regent have been a nearby hotel or theater?

Questions about the city’s old phone exchanges always generate insightful comments. This link will take you to some of the older posts delving into the mysteries of these two-letter exchanges.

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17 Responses to “A Yorkville faded sign with a two-letter old phone exchange”

  1. Doug Says:

    The Four Seasons started out as the New York Regent Hotel. Maybe that?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m not sure about that, but there is (was?) a Loews Regency New York Hotel on Fifth and 66th, a few avenues over from the businesses that had the RE exchange, I think.

  2. Nigel Says:

    Hello

    This won’t solve the mystery of the New York ‘Regent’ exchange, but there was a Regent exchange in London which drew its name from Regent Street which was nearby. In 1965 there was a change to numerical identification with some exchanges being numbered according to the letters on the dial, hence ‘Regent’ became ‘734’.  See https://groups.google.com/g/comp.dcom.telecom/c/wAnVke6Roq0?pli=1 for more info.

    Thanks for such an interesting blog!

    Best

    Nigel Algar

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for the info from the UK, Nigel! Perhaps there was an effort to rename that section of Yorkville after London’s Regent Street?

  3. Pat Pardo Says:

    Why not tell us what the exchange number and exchange name was? How silly to entitle the article with emphasis on the two-letter exchange and then keep it a secret from us.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m not withholding any secrets. The RE stands for Regent, as the article says. The mystery is what Regent meant to the neighborhood—why the phone company used that exchange for this section of Yorkville/Upper East Side.

  4. Rob c Says:

    Could be entirely random:

    “Direct customer dialing of long-distance nationwide calls was becoming popular, phased-in, throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s. AT&T recommended these ‘generic’ EXchange names to the local Bell (and independent) telcos for areas which had only used local numbers of two, three, four or five numerical digits which were moving to a standard seven-digit (2L-5N) format for full incorporation into the North American DDD Telephone Network. These names were considered ‘generic’ enough for use ‘anywhere’ in the US and Canada, without any local differences in pronunciation or spelling in the first two letters.”

    However I also found an old index book on google that reference the Regent Telephone Exchange on 114th st so perhaps it is named in reference to that?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I didn’t know about the Regent exchange on 114th, but if that’s 114th on the east side, it could be related, right?

  5. Andrew ALPERN Says:

    On Saturday 2 October 1982, the NYTimes ran an article by Paul Rosenthal titled YEs, VIrginia, NEw YOrkers ONce DIaled Exchanges. I am going to attempt to copy that article into this comment.
    OK, that didn’t work. Is there some other way I can send it?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Sure, can you send the link in a comment? Or send it to ephemeralnewyork @ gmail.com?

      • Andrew ALPERN Says:

        I just sent the article on phone exchanges from 1982. Perhaps it can be posted in a way that everyone can read it.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Great, thank you—I found a link to the article in the Times archive, which might be an easier way to read it:

  6. Andrew ALPERN Says:

    It probably has no relationship, but Regent was an upscale brand of cigarettes that came in a box rather than a pack. The design was one of restrained elegance in maroon and white. I had a friend who lived at 91st Street and Park Avenue and whose telephone exchange was REgent.

  7. Jeanne Piro Says:

    I grew up on 3rd Ave and 54th St (still tenements). Our phone exchange is Plaza. As a kid, I never thought what Plaza meant, but maybe it was the hotel. Other exchanges indicated the neighborhood; Murray Hill (MU).. Columbus Circle was CI, etc,

  8. countrypaul Says:

    Often phone companies just needed a name for an exchange. In New Rochelle, we had BEverly 5, no relationship to anything in the city. Perhaps REgent was simply that….

  9. Glenn MacDonald Says:

    Cool! Amazing how fast those old phone numbers have disappeared.

  10. Bill B Says:

    My old apartment house at 64th and Third had a TE exchange for TEmpleton. TE8 rolls off the tongue better than 838!

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