NEW YORK, NY (WHTM) — Built in 1919, and named because it was across the street from Pennsylvania Station, the Hotel Pennsylvania was the biggest hotel in the world. Within the hotel, Café Rouge is the biggest (of course!) hotel restaurant in the world. The restaurant was also a nightclub, which attracted the big names of the big band era, including conductor Glenn Miller and his orchestra. And on April 28, 1940, they would record that immortal tune about–the hotel’s phone number.

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In the early days of the telephone, there was no standardized system for phone numbers. Some were only four of five digits long. Big cities like the Big Apple needed something…well, bigger. By the 1930s New York was using the two-letter, five number system (2L+5N for short). The two letters, which would usually be part of a word, would connect to a local exchange. In the area around Pennsylvania Station, It was PE(nnsylvania).

The letters actually stood for numbers; in modern terms, the number for the Hotel Pennsylvania was 736-5000. (The 2L-5N system hung around even after area codes made it obsolete; when my family lived near Philadelphia in the late 1950s, our number was MO(hawk)4-1945.)

Inspired by the hotel, and its phone number, songwriters Jerry Gray and Carl Sigman composed “Pennsylvania 6-5000” (Gray did the tune, Sigman did the lyrics.) The Glenn Miller Orchestra recording went to the top five on the Billboard charts and stayed on the chart for 12 weeks.

Their instrumental version is so well known, that a lot of people don’t know the tune has lyrics. (I found out while researching this story.) The Andrew Sisters recorded a version with all the lyrics, and it has been performed by singers and bands around the world.

As for the hotel, it boasted for years that it had the oldest number in New York City. It looks like the song is going to outlast it. The hotel was sold in 1948 and went through a series of name changes before reverting back to Hotel Pennsylvania in 1991. It closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, and an early 2022, demolition began. It’s slated to be replaced with a glass skyscraper. One wonders what will become of the number.

Sources:

Wikipedia-the hotel

Wikipedia-the number

Wikipedia-the song

Hotel Pennsylvania demolition

Listen to the Glenn Miller version

Listen to the Andrew Sisters version

For the weirdest, funniest version of the tune, click here

Want to learn the lyrics?

Have a burning desire to know more about how telephone exchange systems work?