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Brookline Then and Now: Marion Street, New England Telephone

October 15, 2023  Updated October 17, 2023 at 3:29 p.m.

When the old New England Telephone & Telegraph Company building on Marion Street was torn down in the late 1980s, the entrance of the building was kept as an arched entry way to the courtyard of the new condominium complex on the site. The telephone company building was constructed in 1916, with an addition built a few years later in the back. In 1923, new equipment installed in the building allowed some 1,800 Brookline customers to be the first in New England to be able to make calls themselves without having to speak first to an operator.

Customers were provided with new telephones with dials. Phone company representatives visited residents’ homes to show them how to use the new devices, and instructions were distributed in flyers and through the newspapers.

“The method is very simple,” read instructions published in the Brookline Chronicle. “You remove the receiver from the hook and listen for a steady humming sound known as the dial- tone, which is the equivalent of the operator’s ‘Number, please?’ After hearing this dial-tone, which comes on the line almost as soon as you place the receiver to your ear, you place your finger in the hole through which the first letter of the central office designation appears and turn the dial around to the finger stop. Then remove the finger and let the dial return to rest.”

Ken Liss is president of the Brookline Historical Society. 

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