Otis Elevators in Empire State Building Get Their Due in New Exhibit

On July 29, visitors to the world-famous Empire State Building in NYC have the opportunity to embark on a “journey from the building’s construction to its place in pop culture today.” For elevator (and history, design and technology) enthusiasts, that journey includes a brand-new Otis display, which Otis states “showcases our rich history with this iconic building, as well as our latest technology that transports more than 10 million people each year . . . .” A few years ago, Otis won a hotly competitive contract to modernize the 68-elevator system, a job that included restoration of the Art Deco elevator lobby. At the time, it was the biggest elevator modernization in Otis’ 158-year history. Available with the purchase of a ticket to the Empire State Building’s 86th-floor observatory, the Otis elevator display allows guests to walk through a simulation of an elevator shaft. The display showcases not only how the original elevators operated, but the new technology installed. The new 2nd Floor Exhibits also include vivid, action-packed looks at the site in the 1920s, construction of the buildings, major tenant spaces, most famous celebrity visitors (with signed memorabilia) and, of course, King Kong!! If you’re in NYC, be sure to check it out.

A virtual elevator shaft can be experienced as part of Otis’ new display in the 2nd Floor Exhibits at the Empire State Building in NYC; image courtesy of Empire Realty Trust.
Otis’ new display in the Empire State Building’s 2nd Floor Exhibits offer a trip through time and an in-depth look at the landmark’s elevator system; image courtesy of Empire Realty Trust.

A Visit to the Elevator Museum in Massachusetts

Text and Photos by Caleb Givens

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.”

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Nuclear Powered, Five-Deck Elevators: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mile-High Tower

Double-deck elevators in Midland Square, Japan. Wright’s proposed skyscraper would have had 76 five-deck elevators; photo by Chris 73.

At a press conference in Chicago in 1956, when he was 87 years old, architect Frank Lloyd Wright unveiled his plan for what would come to be known as The Mile High Illinois, a skyscraper four times the height of the Empire State Building that would dwarf the world’s current tallest building, the 2,717-ft.-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 5,280 ft. The never-realized Mile High would have had more than 500 floors and be powered by 76, nuclear-powered, five-deck elevators. Even at that, a modern-day elevator consultant told The New Yorker this would have fallen far short. James Fortune said up to 225 elevators would have been needed. The architect’s “lost masterpiece” had a lot of other technical issues, which you can read all about in The Daily Beast.