Bell Telephone and Telegraph Switching Station
The Bell Telephone and Telegraph Switching Station, or Bell Station was determined eligible for the listing in the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance. Its period of significance commenced in 1929 when the original complex was constructed, and it served as the primary telephone switching station for the area. The utility installed long distance cable through this station, connecting Bakersfield and Los Angeles in 1929. Five years later, the effects of the Depression, likely coupled with rapidly evolving technology resulted in its owner partially vacating the facility.
Backstory and Context
In California, Pacific Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company was a part of the larger Bell System. At the time of its construction, because the area was remote, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company built a self-contained facility for its workers with various types of residential facilities, mechanical rooms, horse and mule stables, and a cleverly disguised water tower with a windmill. The complex was erected at a reported cost of $80,000 with an equipment investment of $150,000. The architectural style was described as Spanish by Southern California Telephone Company’s division manager, M. L. Standard, with “low tile roof[s] and stucco finish” chosen for “the appropriateness and harmony” of design to be compatible with existing communities in 1929.
The Switching Station is closely linked to the historical developments of the Pacific Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company and its successors. Long distance telephone service originated in the early 1900s. Calls were routed through multiple local connection facilities originally called “switching stations,” later “repeater stations” (1929) and finally “step-up to voice” currents (1930). Stations had live operators who manually routed calls, using hard-line connections, linking points that transferred the calls to other telephones, farther switching stations or to local phone connections. Typically, telephone calls were placed with support from switching stations located at approximately 20-mile intervals, so a hundred-mile call required five switching stations, each with separate operators manually connecting the lines. By the turn of the twentieth century, the earliest telephone companies were expanding service areas and thus their capabilities beyond local municipalities enabling actual “long distance” telephone service.
By the end of World War II, the process had become largely automated, requiring few employees and a less labor-intensive process for remaining personnel. The early, arduous telephone switching function is now achieved by advanced computer technology, which automatically connects phone lines. Today, the Bell Station compound is circumscribed by a chain-link fence with gates and has been converted to an alternate use.
Contributing resources to the Bell Station include each of the original Spanish Eclectic style buildings. Those buildings exhibit related character-defining features including their common, deeply overhanging terra cotta tile-finished roofs; exposed, shaped rafter tails; stucco-clad exterior walls deeply inset original windows of various shapes and sizes including large, arched steel sashed picture windows and smaller wood sash windows; covered, arched porches and open exterior arcades; elaborate decorative chimneys, decorative pierced vents and the low sloping, rural hillside setting. The tall, slender, stucco-clad water tower structure is tapered, has three-part windows at the top and Juliette balconies on each of its four sides. At the base, double wooden doors have exaggerated narrow, “arrowslit”-type single windows above. Significant buildings include the one and a half-story primary switching station and its components; three small, interconnected residences for married employees; the larger residential building that served as residential quarters for single, male employees, and the covered water tower structure. The Bell Station property includes all of the fenced area south of State Route 138 which contains all contributing buildings, structures and its associated landscape. Noncontributing elements include the modern, corrugated metal shed and animal shelter, each of which was constructed after the period of significance (1934) and is a utilitarian design. The larger original property included other uses and was sold to George Kinsey in the 1960s (see Kinsey Mansion at 34860 Lancaster Road).The Bell Station is significant for its architecture and for greatly extending the telephone communications network north from Los Angeles, which in turn stimulated development of rural regions of Los Angeles County and elsewhere in Southern California.
“Bell Phone Unit Growing”. Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles) July 5, 1929.
Caltrans. “Historical Resources Evaluation Report, State Route 138 Northwest Corridor Improvement” 2015.
Scott, Harrison Irving. Ridge Route, The Road That United California. Self-Published, Torrance, California. Project,” Los Angeles County, California, 2015.
“Telephone Companies Announce Five-Year Expenditure Program Totaling $ 100,000,000” Los Angeles Times. Mar 23, 1930.
“Utility Will Erect Two New Buildings” Los Angeles Times. 13 October, 1929.