Mojave Phone Booth: The Famous Telephone Booth Whose Popularity Became its Undoing

The Mojave phone booth was a stand-alone telephone booth located in the modern-day Mojave National Preserve in California. While telephone booths ruled the 20th century, the unusual location of the Mojave phone booth made it unique and famous. It was located at the intersection of two dirt roads in the remote parts of the Mojave Desert. How did a telephone booth end up in the middle of a desert? Who used it? Why was it abandoned? This piece answers these questions and more.

History of the Mojave Phone Booth

Built in 1948, the Mojave phone booth was strategically placed to provide telephone services to local volcanic cinder miners and nearby residents. This was after Emerson Ray, the owner of the Cima Cinder Mine, requested the California government to build a telephone booth there. It was first named Cinder Peak Policy Station.

While the Mojave phone booth was the one that became famous, it wasn’t the first in the region. If anything, it replaced another that was located 30 miles (48 kilometers) to the south. The Mojave phone booth was originally a hand-cranked magneto phone but was replaced by a payphone (rotary) in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the authorities replaced the rotary phone with a touch-tone model.

What was Mojave Phone Booth’s Original Number?

Following the establishment of area codes in 1947, the Mojave phone booth was assigned the number BAker-3-9969 and had the same area code as the whole of South California (213). About three years after the telephone booth’s establishment, the area code 714 was split off from 213 – 714, which was Mojave’s area code until 1982.

Who Discovered the Mojave Phone Booth in 1997?

 

By 1997, signs of telephone evolution were imminent; people were moving to landlines and, eventually, mobile phones. So, as a Los Angeles man was walking around Mojave Desert, he spotted the lone telephone booth and decided to visit it. He then wrote about his expeditions, attaching the booth’s telephone number – 760-733-9969, and published it in an underground magazine.

In Arizona, another man known as Godfrey Daniels read about the Los Angeles man’s discovery and was amazed. Godfrey Daniels built a website devoted to Mojave’s telephone booth, which became an internet sensation in 1997. It was so much so that it was mentioned in a New York Times article, which was a big thing at the time.

It didn’t take long before more and more people started calling the booth and creating websites dedicated to it. Others took trips to the booth, camped at the site, and answered calls whenever the telephone rang. As time went by, the Mojave phone booth had been covered in graffiti from visitors who wanted to create memories.

Why Was the Mojave Phone Booth Removed?

The Mojave phone booth was removed on May 17, 2000, because of the visitors’ environmental impact on the national reserve. It was removed by Pacific Bell, a telephone company providing telephone services in California, at the request of the National Park Service. It is believed the Pacific Bell razed it down, bringing to an end a wonderful story.

Even with the telephone booth gone, its story inspired the creation of several films and documentaries, including Dead Line, Mojave Mirage, and Mojave Phone Booth. It also inspired Glenn Beck’s prologue for the novel The Overton Window.

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