The Last Payphone Before the Forest

The Last Payphone (Before the Forest) — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

The Last Payphone Before the Forest

On a lonely road in Altadena, just before you enter the Angeles National Forest, you’ll come across one of the last working payphones in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles used to have a near endless forest of payphones spread across its landscape. But today, only a handful remain. One of those holdouts stands on the side of Chaney Trail, just before the edge of the Angeles National Forest.

The Last Payphone Before the Forest waiting for your call. Photo from the author’s collection.

There don’t seem to be any solid numbers on how many payphones are left in Los Angeles. In California, there were once as many as 100,000 working payphones. But by 2016, that number had reportedly dropped to 27,000 — and more seem to be disappearing every day.

On our explorations, we often come across the odd payphone. We’ve seen them next to parking lots, bolted to convenience stores, and waiting patiently outside hotels. Most of the time they appear broken and abandoned. But every so often, one works.

Typical payphone in Los Angeles. Photo from the author’s collection.

Historic Working Payphone

On Google Maps, The Last Payphone Before the Forest is tagged with the name “Historic Working Payphone” in attention-grabbing, all-capital letters.

And it does indeed work, insomuch as it rings. But it only rings once. Here’s a video titled The Last Payphone Only Rings Once that illustrates its singular ring.

If you’re quick and answer it before this sole ring cycle concludes, all you’ll hear is a woman’s recorded voice reciting an unintelligible message.

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If you want to experience the phenomenon of this single-ring payphone yourself, just give it a call at 626-296-6522. Every time we dial that number, our ears are assaulted by a whining, high-pitched tone after the first ring. But who knows? Perhaps a passing hiker or bicyclist will pick up when you dial.

What’s interesting about this location is that there is plenty of cell phone coverage at the spot where the payphone stands. This phone is probably intended for emergency use, a holdover from the days before everyone carried a mobile phone and when the signal at the edge of the Angeles National Forest was all but nonexistent.

But today it’s an antique that’s more of a curiosity than a working tool — especially considering its limited functionality.

While this payphone is far from the last one remaining in Los Angeles, there aren’t that many left. There’s a Reddit thread on r/LosAngeles about where to find payphones in L.A. It’s a bit old, but a few of these phones are still around if you’re interested in seeing one of these relics in the wild.

After publishing this short piece on the Last Payphone Before the Forest, I made the virtual acquaintance of Los Angeles payphone aficionado Ryan Green. Check out his Payphones of Los Angeles Instagram account where he posts about — you guessed it — the various extant payphones throughout the city of L.A. You’ll notice that most of these are no longer operational, but a few still appear to work.

Last Payphone Before the Forest

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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