Midtown Manhattan said goodbye to a long-standing resident on Monday when the city's last working public payphone was officially removed from the area.
“As a native New Yorker, saying goodbye to the last street payphone is bittersweet because of the prominent place they’ve held in the city's physical landscape for decades," said Matthew Fraser, NYC's Commissioner of the Office of Technology and Innovation. "Just like we transitioned from the horse and buggy to the automobile and from the automobile to the airplane, the digital evolution has progressed from payphones to high-speed Wi-Fi kiosks to meet the demands of our rapidly changing daily communications needs."
The payphone isn't being sent to the scrapyard though: it's headed to the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) as part of their new exhibit Analog City: NYC BC (Before Computers), which looks back at pre-digital life in the city.
"It's really fortuitous, I have to say," Lilly Tuttle, the curator of the show, told Gothamist about the museum's unexpected acquisition.
The city reached out to the museum last week to see if they were interested in taking the payphone. It just happens that the exhibit, which had long been in the works, opened last Friday.
"The fact that we had just opened an exhibition on this topic really made it a no-brainer," she said. "In the exhibition, we talk about the fact that people made plans and navigated the city and did things for decades and decades before cell phones. We were New Yorkers before and we're New Yorkers now, and whether or not we have payphones doesn't necessarily symbolize the end of anything, just a change in the way we communicate."
The removal of the payphone, located at 745 7th Ave., does mark the end of an era of coin-operated communication in New York City. This process began almost a decade ago, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a competition to reimagine the payphone. Then in 2014, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the consortium known as City Bridge were chosen to launch LinkNYC to replace them. Starting a year later, the booths were slowly-but-surely removed from every corner of the city, with most sent to a payphone graveyard by 2020.
LinkNYC, the digital monoliths that are now ubiquitous throughout the five boroughs, have become familiar sights to New Yorkers, whether they're updating people on the weather and their commute times, advertising local art, blasting the Mister Softee jingle, or smashed to pieces.
The communications network says they've facilitated over three billion Wi-Fi sessions with more than 10 million subscribers. Later this year, they will be expanding their network with 5G service.
While this is the last city-owned public payphone in NYC, there are a few private payphones still on public property, and there are four permanent full-length "Superman booths" still out there. They are located on West End Avenue around 66th, 90th, 100th and 101st streets.
Tuttle, the MCNY curator, says she isn't surprised by all the interest around the end of the payphone.
"There's a lot of curiosity around this payphone," she said. "In just a few days since the exhibition has been open, I really have come to appreciate how many people are fascinated by bygone technology. And as we see things changing, and we're reminded of how rapidly our technology has advanced in recent decades, I think people have these moments of realizing how different things are."
Of course, it's hard not to feel a rush of emotions when you realize that the 2002 Joel Schumacher film Phone Booth, in which Colin Farrell is held hostage in a Times Square phone booth, is now a period piece.