The convenience of the cell phone and its complete saturation of our culture has deemed it practically a necessity, making the common phone booth a thing of the past. But where do these large, obsolete phone boxes go when they die?
For decades, tall, stately phone booths stood on nearly every street as a comforting sign that connection was merely a bit of pocket change away. One of the dinosaurs of communication technology, phone booths were a former staple in any city or town, large or small. In a time when people had numbers memorized or scratched onto matchbooks and needed to call home when out in the world, phone booths were there to make sure there was a way to reach out and touch those you loved—or make an anonymous phone call that couldn’t be traced.
Film and TV used them as the perfect iconic setting for when superheroes needed a place to change outfits, lonely travelers needed a place to get out of the rain and hear their lover’s voice, or violent outbursts occurred as one person took their sweet time with no regard to someone else waiting their turn. The solution to countless problems and the refuge to a myriad of characters, the phone booth is forever branded on the face of modern culture.
Despite their permanent place in the history of the 20th century, the phone booth has been falling swiftly into extinction since the stratospheric rise of the cell phone, a convenience and technology with which the antiquated booth simply can’t compete. In New York, you’d be hard pressed to find someone on the bustling streets without their trusty pocket computer, and the formerly trusty phone booths are few and far in-between, so where have they gone?
There’s no accounting for all of them, but at least 100 of them resided underneath the elevated railroad tracks near 135th Street and 12th Avenue in a decaying collection of a bygone era. Like many other cities, New York has found the structures no longer good for much besides art installations or decoration, so they stored them here and there, out of the way, in piles of rusted metal being referred to as “Phone Booth Graveyards.
Although the archaic communication tool seems quickly on its way out, New York City’s information technology and telecommunications department states that there are still roughly 10,524 public pay phones still in service along the city’s sidewalks, 5,429 of which operator in Manhattan. Where and when they will finally be put to rest is anyone’s guess.
Sadly, as of January 2014, the old phone booths had reportedly been removed.
Visit New York State with Atlas Obscura Trips
Only in Queens: Tasting Our Way Through New York’s Most Diverse Borough
Manhattan may have name-brand recognition and Brooklyn a certain cache, but Queens is the city’s largest and most diverse borough. Join us, October 4-7, to dig into Queens’ rich neighborhood life.