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.

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.

Five Decades of Innovation

When it opened in 1969, 875 North Michigan Avenue (then the John Hancock Center) in Chicago represented cutting-edge construction technology, becoming the first high-rise building to employ a braced-tube structural system; photo courtesy of CTBUH.

In recognition of its founding in 1969, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has spent 2019 looking at the past five decades of skyscraper construction and development, as well as imagining what the next five decades might bring — hence, its 50th anniversary theme, “50 Forward | 50 Back.” The celebration will come to a head at the end of this month with the CTBUH 10th World Congress in Chicago. As in previous events, the congress will feature workshops, presentations, panel discussions and a symposium. The special focus, however, will be “The 50 Most Influential Tall Buildings of the Last 50 Years,” a global roster of landmark structures that, each in its own way, “represented a significant change in thinking or technique” from what came before. The list includes 1969’s 875 North Michigan Avenue (the former John Hancock Center) in Chicago; the Lotte World Tower in Seoul (2017) and the Burj Khalifa (2010), Dubai’s awe-inspiring megatall. Whether it was construction technique, environmental friendliness or outside-the-box architectural design, each building on the list had a notable role in advancing the art and science of the skyscraper, one of humankind’s most iconic creations.

CTBUH is expecting more than 1,500 delegates from at least 45 countries to attend the congress, which opens on October 28. An online registration portal will be open until October 18, so there’s still time to sign up. For more information or to register, visit the CTBUH website’s 2019 program page.