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Riding a Time Capsule to Apartment 8G

Of the nearly 70,000 elevators in New York City, there remain a few that are manually operated, left over from the early days when riding an elevator was a unique experience, complete with operators who will take you to the height you desire. Some are as opulent as they day they were unveiled, adorned with colorful art and piloted by operators who wear white gloves. Others are utilitarian, just a cage through which you can see floors flying past. And some have been remodeled to resemble modern elevators, although they still require an operator.   

Collectively they form a hidden museum of obsolete technology and anachronistic employment, a network of cabinets of wonder staffed round the clock. No one knows how many there are, exactly. The city Department of Buildings offered a list of more than 600, but spot checks indicated that most had gone push-button long ago. On the other hand, officials at Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, to which most doormen and elevator operators belong, said they knew of only one or two.

A non-exhaustive field survey this fall turned up 53 buildings with manual passenger elevators. There are undoubtedly dozens more, but probably not hundreds.

Why they still exist in such relative profusion, when the city is down to its last few seltzer men and its final full-time typewriter repair shop, when replacement parts are no longer made and must be machined by hand, is a question with many answers. But sentiment plays a large part.

There are also architectural reasons for keeping 100-year-old elevators in some buildings. The people who make a living operating these elevators have quite a few stories to tell. Read about the remaining manual elevators of New York City at the New York Times.  -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Flickr user caren litherland)


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