by Vickie Gray
I always thought I grew up in the wrong decade. Noir movies, forties fashions and Art Deco architecture are among my long time favorites. That’s no doubt why, on a recent gray Sunday morning, the Telephone Building at 320 St. Paul Street caught my eye.
Wandering around with a newly acquired film camera (loaded with black and white film, no less),the Telephone Building seemed like the perfect subject for a grainy, dramatic photo. Designed by Taylor and Fisher (who also designed the magnificent Baltimore Trust Building at Ten Light Street), and built in 1941 by the C&P Telephone Company, the building is considered a fine example of Art Deco style. Even its name is majestic and timeless — “TELEPHONE BUILDING.” No corporate logo or outdated branding, just the identification of a building that represented the communications giant of its day.
Peeking into windows conjured up memories of telephone operators furiously plugging and unplugging dozens of cords into a massive console, all of them wearing seamed stockings, bow tie blouses and sometimes even hats. “Number please!”
A quick Google search revealed popular movies of 1941, including Citizen Kane and the Maltese Falcon. One of the most popular books that year was Mildred Pierce, by Baltimorean James M. Cain. Of course! Can’t you just see Mildred hustling into the TELEPHONE BUILDING, frantic to pay her phone bill with pie money so her service isn’t cut off? Or perhaps Sam Spade lingering outside, waiting for one of the operators to finish work so he can casually ask a few questions on the whereabouts of a priceless statuette?
I’m not sure what purpose the TELEPHONE BUILDING serves today. It would sure make a cool apartment building. But boy am I glad I looked up that Sunday morning and got a picture to accompany my nostalgia for all things Art Deco.
Vickie Gray is a marketing professional by day and a street photographer all the time. She lives in north Baltimore with her Scottish Terrier Jocko, a dead ringer for FDR’s beloved Fala, another 1940s icon.
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