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.