Celebrating a Milestone

With the hashtag #TBT (throwback Thursday), the University of North Carolina Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture posted on Instagram this photo of Gray, left, with now-retired architecture professor John Nelson, in the Arts Quad in 1999.

The University of North Carolina Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture has joined ELEVATOR WORLD in celebrating a milestone for Dr. Lee Gray — the publication of his 200th EW article, “The First Elevator in the Texas State Capitol, Part One,” which appears in this month’s issue. Gray, a professor of Architectural History and senior associate dean, joined the faculty at UNCC in 1992 and, according to an April 2 post on the Arts + Architecture Instagram page, “decided it was time to write a book. Asking himself, ‘What’s going to be the most fun?’ he landed on his topic: elevators.” It was in 2003 that he became an EW correspondent, penning monthly history columns (with occasional other pieces), and, according to the post, has since become the “ONLY fulltime elevator historian in the WORLD.” As such, he is the go-to answer man — if the question is “elevators” — for numerous national media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, The History Channel, National Geographic and PBS, to name a few. In a reply to the post, EW’s Instagram congratulated Gray, adding, “Our magazine wouldn’t be the same without his contributions. We look forward to his Escalator History book in 2021!” Faithful EW readers don’t have to wait that long for more from Gray, however — he’ll have another article in May’s issue, and for June he will be the subject of our popular “10 Questions” feature.

Fighting Coronavirus

As the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, China has taken numerous steps to try to contain the spread of the disease. Elevators have been one focal point in the country’s efforts. For example, the photos above sent by ELEVATOR WORLD Correspondent Peng Jie show elevator buttons covered with plastic wrap to protect them from twice-daily spraying of disinfectant, plus record sheets on the wall to certify the cleaning has been done. Peng tells us, “We have been affected in work and daily life since January. Schools and universities remain closed, the same with restaurants and most shops. People are advised to stay at home and go out as [little] as possible. Temperatures are measured everywhere.”

The South China Morning Post reports that people are using objects — such as lighters, or even toothpicks — to press elevator buttons. The article notes that some buildings have adopted voice-controlled systems. Giving a nod to “the most innovative solution so far,” the newspaper relates that holographic buttons are in use in at least one elevator in the eastern city of Hefei. Riders simply press the “button” for their floor. The maker of the system, Easpeed, said it has received more than 100 orders for its touchless elevator button system, which sells for about US$2,163.

On a promising note, KOYO Elevator posted on its LinkedIn page the photo below along with a note that its factory in Kunshan, China, has resumed production, adding, “The epidemic in China has been effectively controlled,” and that company leadership “attached great importance to the timely shipment of goods.”

Back at work at KOYO Elevator’s factory

The “Mayor of City Hall”

Ruth Thomas, at the controls in 1970; contributed photo via Chattanooga Times Free Press

The profession of elevator operator is quickly fading from the public consciousness, but there was a time when you couldn’t ride an elevator without having someone at the controls. These men and women often became ambassadors for their buildings, offering advice or a sympathetic ear, or maybe just exchanging friendly banter.  One such “diplomat,” notes the Chattanooga Times Free Press, was Ruth Thomas, whose 44 years operating an elevator at the seat of municipal government in the Tennessee city earned her the title “Mayor of City Hall.” From 1943 to 1987, Thomas was witness to the comings and goings of all manner of VIPs: politicians, business executives, celebrities and more. Such was the respect she earned that she was even asked to stand in for the city’s fire and police commissioner during a dinner honoring a local coach. There were city officials who went so far as to claim — and, not entirely jokingly — that Thomas was the one who actually “ran” city hall.

One of the old building’s elevators was replaced with an automatic, push-button model in 1966, but the city waited until Thomas retired in 1987 to replace “Old Creaky,” the car she ran for all those years. She was afforded the honor of taking the first official ride in the new lift. You’d have to say she went out on top.