by Kevin Walsh

There are quite a few ancient signs displaying former letter telephone exchanges around town used with dial rotary phones, which displayed letters as well as numbers; the first two characters in a phone number were typically letters standing for the exchange. With the advent of touch phones, in which buttons were pressed to “dial” the number, the letters were dropped and local phone numbers were indeed all numbers, 3 digits and then 4, separated by a hyphen when printed. However, the old exchanges were still in use, without the numbers.

Sometimes the exchange names corresponded to locality, but often they didn’t. Today, I’ll show one that did and one that did not. The above number appears on a handsome hand-lettered green and white sign outside the former offices at Kelly’s Car Service at the Bayside Port Washington station. The BA, of course, stood for BAyside. There are a number of BAyside exchanges around the country. Kelly was one of the oldest surviving car services in the country, operating from 1914 to 2018, after which it merged with a rival service in Little Neck. The last two sets of four digits were alternate numbers to be used with the exchange, BA9.

This rusting sign for Alcol Realty has been affixed to a building facing the Manhattan-bound Long Island Rail Road platform, a choice spot, for as long as I’ve been using the station going back to 1992. The sign was probably installed in the 1960s, which is the last decade lettered exchanges were in wide use.

As you might be able to guess the IL in the number stands for ILlinois, an exchange in Woodside. There is another IL exchange in the United States: ILford.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



Doug Douglass October 5, 2020 - 6:46 pm

Until 1977, listings in the Manhattan directory that existed before the conversion to ANC (All-Number Calling), had exchange letters including CH 4 and TR 7, originally shown as CHickrng 4 and TRafalgr 7.

robert dowling October 11, 2020 - 6:30 am

moved from west 69th street man nyc in 1966/7 to upper w/s man nyc at 100thst and all years at west sts had TR trafalgar xchange but dont remember whole number i had and dont remember if TR followed me to upper west side i dont think so. kind of remember my number thereat started with xchange UN i believefor university could be plausible if connceted at all that residence area was in area of COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY way upper westside?

Theresa Randazzo October 5, 2020 - 7:50 pm

I’m old enough to remember exchanges, which survived into the 1970s in New York. Growing up in Queens, we had EXeter, STillwell and RAvenswood; later in Long Beach, LI, “GEneral”. At my first office job in 1979, we still had PLaza printed on our letterhead.

Peter Hirsch October 5, 2020 - 8:34 pm

No question about BAyside 9, but the BA exchange of my youth, growing up in nearby Nassau County was BAldwin 3, matching the name of the village I lived in. So, BA….. was altered to fit the local name, at least in this case. Even close to sixty years later, BA 3-1551 still bubbles up effortlessly from the depths of my memory. I see that the introduction of the area code 516 was in 1947, but my memory does not encompass that detail, since it was only needed for long distance and who could afford that?

Ty October 5, 2020 - 8:40 pm

Wow. I drove nights for Kelly on Bell Boulevard for a while. Total flashback just now.

mike October 6, 2020 - 4:44 am

my # was BA5-8085, still remember 50 plus years later.

Andy October 6, 2020 - 8:03 am

In the Bayside-Douglaston-Little Neck area, there was also BAyside 4 and 5 (224 and 225, which along with 229 still exist today).
Other Queens phone exchanges that conformed to geographical areas were FLushing 9 (359, my exchange when I lived there 1973-78), FAr Rockaway 7, JAmaica 3 and 6.
Besides ILlinois 8 and 9, Other parts of Queens had phone exchanges that were named for states – MIchigan 1, and VIrginia 6, come to mind.
Manhattan had ORegon 7, WIsconsin 7, and of course PEnnsylvania 6, made famous by Glenn Miller.
No doubt there were other states names used for phone exchanges in NYC, but those are the only ones that I remember right now. Could go on and on, but basically more unimportant information. With the proliferation of mobile phones today, even the area code doesn’t mean much in terms of the phone’s location.

Susan October 6, 2020 - 9:06 am

I remember my grandmother’s in Brooklyn, HYacinth.

Mary from Bayside October 6, 2020 - 12:41 pm

I grew up in Forest Hills; our exchange was BOulevard 3… for Queens Blvd. ( years before it was called the Boulevard of Death.)

P-j Greiner October 7, 2020 - 11:59 am

In Middle Village we had the “HAvermyer” exchange. My grandparents phone number was HA4-7936.

Peter Slaton October 7, 2020 - 3:37 pm

VI (RCI is)7-3144 in Richmond Hill

Chickie D October 7, 2020 - 10:30 pm

If you go back to the very beginning, telephone exchanges were 3 letters. You told the operator, get me BAYside 456. When they needed more numbers, the plan had to change, so the exchange became the first 2 digits of a phone number. Then, they added BA 4 and BA 5 to the original BA 9, as Bayside got larger. FLUshing was expanded the same way, the original became FL 9, and a few more FL were added.

Mitchell Pak October 8, 2020 - 9:54 am

When I lived in the Bronx as a little boy, our phone number started with LU, for Ludlow.
My grandparents lived in Brooklyn for a long time, and their phone number started with a GE, for Gedney.

Edward October 8, 2020 - 10:04 am

DeJoy’s Red Top Taxis on Staten Island had GI2-4700 painted on all their cabs well into the 2000s. Then one day around 2010 they switched to 442 instead of GIbralter2 and that was that. Some new owner must have been like “why the heck are we using GI2 on our cabs? Wonder if Gibraltar was used because Islanders affectionately refer to SI as “The Rock”?

Doug Douglass October 8, 2020 - 10:55 am

Andy mentioning exchanges with state names, reminded me that some people dialed the two letter abbreviation .. MO for Missouri and VA for Virginia. Other confusions were SChuyler dialed as SK and YUkon becoming UK. Calls were completed, but not to the number they wanted


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