The mobile phone all but killed-off the public payphone, but the ruins of the once-mighty public phone remain. According to The Atlantic, it wasn’t just cellular technology that killed the payphone–a wave of anti-public phone policies swept the United States in the 1990’s. Why? Criminals loved payphones and lawmakers were trying to interrupt business for drug dealers, illegal gambling outfits and anything else you can think of.
Racketeering aside, in the post-COVID-19 world, it seems hard to imagine picking up a phone used by countless individuals and holding it to your ear. Still, cell phones make better vectors than you might think. According to a 2017 Time Magazine article, your mobile phone is “dirtier than a toilet seat.” In fact, a study by the University of Arizona showed that cell phones carry 10-times more bacteria than a toilet seat on average. And with that lovely image now implanted in your mind, let’s look at some images of old payphones around Sherman Oaks and Studio City.
As a rule of thumb, it’s unwise to open boxes that urge you to open them, but what’s life without a little adventure? I opened this box on Whitsett and Riverside near Val Surf.
Unfortunately, the only adventure to be found inside this box was a moldy hoody that fell out when I opened it, a bag of dog poop and some other bits of trash. I wonder if some cheeky resident who mounted the plywood door on this old pay phone stand had left something more fanciful inside. If so, it has since been pilfered.
Twins! These two are outside Fashion Square Car Wash at Woodman and the 101 Freeway. You can imagine the days when someone’s car would break down on the freeway and they would have to walk to these two to call a tow truck.
Here’s another angle of the twins. You can see the freeway in the background on the right.
This payphone outside the Whitefire Theatre on Ventura Boulevard is actually fully intact with the phone and the phonebook case. It reminds me of a payphone near my house when I was about eight years old. My siblings and I had the number memorized and we would call the phone as people passed by. It was a treat being able to see your prank call victim reacting as you pranked them.
Here’s one that has been completely gutted near Pico Pica Rico Restaurant on Magnolia Boulevard and Kester Avenue.
Here’s a photo of the same one near Pico Pica Rico that was recently decorated with silk flowers. This photo was featured in March as one of our photos of the week. Thanks again to Meg Foss for her photo.
Here’s one with an extra tall flag sign attached that reads “Call anywhere in the continental U.S.A” but it’s now obscured with stickers. The sticker of “The Fonz” is a nice touch of nostalgia, within nostalgia, within nostalgia.
Another intact pay phone at Coldwater and Moorpark near M&M Market and The Little Brown Church.
Public payphones were everywhere and were a regular stop for most people until the early 2,000’s. Within a decade they were basically gone. Remember the days of always being sure to have change in your pocket in case you had to make a call? The payphone was a regular part of my life until I was out of high school. By then we were using prepaid phone cards. Then seemingly overnight, everyone had a flip phone.
We will be adding more to this collection, so check back in a few weeks if you liked it. If you have photos of phone booths in Sherman Oaks or Studio City, we’d love to share them. Send them to TheColdwaterStory@gmail.com