Back to the Future? Elevator Operator Loves Life in a Gilded Cage

A 1912 gold birdcage Otis elevator in a five-story office building in downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been operated for the past 12 years by 60-year-old Gary Wallace, office manager. The elevator, built the same year as the office building, has become an attraction in itself, The Gazette reports. Wallace, who says the unit “always passes its inspections with flying colors,” loves his “elevator jockey” job, perhaps as much — if not more — than his regular one cutting hair. Over the years, Wallace has acquired the skills to deliver a smooth, quiet ride to visitors as they make their 13-second trip up or down. He calls the elevator his “baby,” and himself, “the last of a dying breed.”

If he had to guess, Wallace estimates the elevator reaches speeds of 10 mph, at the most.

Or is he? Among the interesting trends borne of the coronavirus pandemic is the return of the elevator operator. Your author has seen numerous reports of property managers bringing in elevator operators to help keep people safer. Just this week, Los Angeles-based attorney Guy Gruppie told her he was at a business meeting that day and, “for the rest of the COVID crisis, they are using an elevator operator to make sure only he touches the buttons and that the occupants stand on X’s in the car, six feet apart.” So, is Wallace the last of a dying breed? Maybe not.

Be sure to check out The Gazette’s picture gallery of the elevator and a video of Wallace operating it.

Elevators Through The Ages

Image by StockSnap via Pixabay

Don Gelestino, president of Champion Elevator in NYC and good friend of ELEVATOR WORLD, recently shared on his LinkedIn page a link to a blog posted by Avire on its website that we found fascinating, and a great read for anyone sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic: “The History of Elevators: Where Did it All Begin?” If you said it started with Elisha Graves Otis in the 1850s, you’d be wrong. Turns out, you’d have to go back about two millenia to possibly find the answer: Tradition has it that Archimedes, the renowned ancient Greecian scientist, invented the elevator in 236 BCE. We say “possibly,” because the ancient Egyptians are believed to have used a hoisting device, powered by animals or good-old human elbow grease, to build the pyramids more than 2,000 years before the birth of Archimedes.

Granted, we’ll probably never know who first used an elevator-like contraption, but the Avire blog does take us through the device’s documented history, noting that they were used in the Roman Colosseum (built between 70 and 80 CE), and were popular among 18th-century monarchs. Finally, the Avire post takes us through a timeline of post-Otis improvements. It even hints at what the next big thing may very well be.

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.
Gray

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.