The International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 4 Union Hall is tucked behind a few industrial facilities in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Housed in this building, in a large, open conference room, is the Elevator Museum. It is the shining physical presence of the Elevator Historical Society’s efforts to preserve the history of the elevator and escalator industry.
Your author visited Steve Comley, who is truly taking the museum from good to great. Comley is a longtime elevator man, getting his taste of the industry at an early age, thanks to his father, James, who purchased Embree and White Elevator in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1972. “I loved the dirty old elevator machine shop,” recalls Comley. “It was fascinating to me as a kid — the noise from the flat-belt pulleys running across the ceiling, the smell of the cutting oils on the machines and the smoke from the welding. They used to cast and completely build elevator machines there.”
During the first half of the 20th century, Buffalo, New York, had the largest capacity for grain storage in the U.S. with more than 30 concrete grain elevators along the Buffalo River and Lake Erie. In addition to serving as monuments to a former prosperity — the first grain elevator was built in Buffalo in 1842 and the last in the 1950s — the structures boast distinct historical features. Some of the remaining 20-odd facilities are being preserved and even reborn, such as one that is now a mixed-use building, Silos at Elk Street, that serves as headquarters for Young + Wright Architectural. After buying the property for only around US$5,000 at auction, the firm poured approximately US$3 million into its transformation, which includes an elevator (of the vertical-transportation, rather than grain-storage, variety). Young + Wright tells ELEVATOR WORLD the transformation includes a five-stop elevator by Schindler in a five-story, brick building that formerly housed drying operations for grain used to make beer. “We have not actually touched the silos portion of our building,” the firm’s Mark Gallivan says. So, this post might be a little misleading in that the elevator is not actually located in the former grain elevator. However, an elevator in a grain elevator could be coming to Buffalo soon as part of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.’s plan to transform the circa 1915 Connecting Terminal on the Outer Harbor into a public attraction with an outdoor viewing deck. The Connecting Terminal is already home to nightly light shows.
The five-stop Schindler elevator that serves the offices.
Wodke operating the elevator in the 1925 Century Building in downtown Milwaukee; photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
a gentleman who has been operating the elevator in the 1925 Century building in downtown Milwaukee since 1992. More than simply a button presser, James Wodke had more of a public-relations, customer-service role, handing out treats for canine passengers and spraying air freshener when certain smells lingered in the cab. Originally an office building, the eight-floor structure now houses condos on several of its floors, and requires an elevator that can be operated automatically, 24/7. That puts Wodke and two part-timers out of a job as of October 1. Wodke told the Sentinel he might become a Walmart greet; certainly, it will not be nearly the same!