Posts Tagged ‘Wood phone booths’

The wooden phone booths inside a private Midtown clubhouse

August 1, 2021

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]

A Midtown bar that still has a wood phone booth

October 22, 2018

Beer has been flowing at P.J. Clarke’s on Third Avenue and 55th Street since Chester Arthur was president.

And while the place looks spiffier than it has in recent years, it’s still one of those old-school saloons that kept its Gilded Age decor, like stained glass, amber lights, and a pressed tin ceiling.

There’s another old New York relic P.J. Clarke’s appears to have held onto: the bar’s wooden phone booth.

Way back in the dinosaur era of payphones, every public place had one: a phone booth with a hinged door and small stool a person would tuck themselves into to make their call out of earshot.

While the phone itself and the seat are no longer in the booth at P.J.’s, the booth itself is still there  beside the end of the bar—only now it’s used to store glasses and napkins.

Not convinced that this casket-like space was a phone booth? Check out how similar its shape is to these, spotted at the Park Avenue Armory in 2010, and this one, at Bill’s on 54th Street, ID’d in 2015.

A wood telephone booth hides on 54th Street

March 9, 2015

After an 88-year run in a townhouse on East 54th Street, Bill’s Gay Nineties closed in 2012.

Billsphonecloseup

The shuttering of the former speakeasy turned saloon and restaurant was a big loss for New Yorkers who love a time warp and a mahogany bar.

BillsphoneboothReopened and rechristened Bill’s, it’s a cleaned-up version of the old place, with much of the same decor, framed old photos, and finishings (and the silver dollars long embedded into the floor).

And luckily, the old wood telephone booth (with a phone with separate coin slots for quarters, dimes, and nickels!) off to the side of the front doors is still in place as well.

Sightings of wood phone booths are rare in Manhattan, so it’s a relief that this one wasn’t turned into a coat check or closet.

But why in the world does the staff keep one of those yellow wet-floor warning signs in there?

Billsbar