What Number, Please?

I took a little day trip into Philadelphia on August 9. I spent my time in Center City down to the historical area – from about 18th and Market to 5th and Market, and then over a block or two, and back up Walnut Street. A round trip of 3 or 4 miles.

On the way I took pictures of various sights. Now here is one that’s come up recently in my life: telephone booths.

I am of the age to remember and to have used pay phones. I remember when they still cost a dime. Enough said.

Pay phones are not too common these days. On east Market Street I saw one, though:

and I saw where one had been.

On my way, I stopped in the Curtis Center building to see the Dream Garden mosaic. I worked in a nearby building for some time and the mosaic was a favorite spot of mine to visit. And I remembered another landmark in my personal life. Past those stained glass windows, see that little alcove area with the stairs?

Here’s what is in there. The sign on the door says: Bell Telephone Pay Station.

Phone booths! I remember these two from way back when. They had a phone, phone book on a shelf, and a little wooden bench seat inside. You went in, closed the door, and it was…QUIET. I remember stopping in, not to call anybody, but to get a moment of QUIET.

I was puzzled, though, as to why the windows were so…white. My memory told me they should be dark; the booths had a light that went on when you closed the door, but it was not so bright as this was. On closer examination, I realized that the windows had white paper over them; through a tear, I saw that the booths no longer existed. The area behind had been torn out, enveloped into a larger space, and the whole thing immersed in mid-construction for offices.

Well, what do you know.

I’ll show you a quick look at another feature of this building, right around the corner from the phone booth remains. Curtis Center is actually built as a hollow square, with a huge atrium in the middle. I do not know what the space looked like when the building was put up in about 1914; I do know this format was used in the pre-air conditioning days as a way to get light and air into all the floors and all the areas of the building.

As a note, this building was the home of the Curtis magazine publishers, and all operations were done here, including the printing and binding. So, in summertime, air circulation would have been important.

The atrium now looks like this:

Nice, isn’t it? My husband tells me the building does a good business in hosting weddings and other events.

All right. More Philadelphia visit information later on!

About Claudia McGill

A person who does art and writes poetry. That's me!

6 responses to “What Number, Please?

  1. They took away all our phone booths and put in internet hubs. Now hangouts for drug dealers. I suppose phone booths were once homes to numbers runners. Different technology, same humanity.

  2. What a lovely building that is. I always liked phone booths and those little rooms you could take records into to listen to before purchasing them. Maybe I just like hiding away from other people and having peace and quiet. The UK is famous for its bright red telephone boxes (and the large blue ones for police officers that everyone knows as Dr Who’s Tardis) but even those iconic items of street furniture started to be removed once we got into the mobile/cell phone age. We still had a fair few of them in Argyll because its remoteness meant there was little reliable mobile phone signal in places but they are definitely endangered and probably heading towards extinction. I was thinking about some things related to this topic just the other day: I realised that I have not memorised people’s phone numbers since I emigrated here because my phone also doubles as a directory of contacts and I also realised that my kids have no idea about making reverse charge phone calls.

  3. Pingback: Art Drop Off – April 1, 2020 | Sometimes You Get So Confused

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