Smith Tower to start automating elevators after 103 years

By: Graham Johnson

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Where else but Smith Tower, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, can you find a hundred-year-old elevator operated by a real person, a worker pushing the buttons, pulling the levers and opening the doors?

"You come in on a gray day and they cheer you right up," said Christopher McKey, who works in the building. "I have yet to see a push button on an elevator that does that for you."

Next year, he'll have to make do with that button.

One hundred three years after Smith Tower was built, the building owner, Unico Properties, says it will automate six of the seven elevators.

"Relentless pursuit of efficiency, I suppose? I don't know, these guys are fantastic in here," McKey said.

Unico says most of the work modernizing the elevators for fire and life safety codes will be done behind the scenes.

The company plans to maintain the historic look and feel of the elevators, while also reducing wait times.

"They're great guys, you got to know them over time, but at the same time for the ease of people getting in and out it makes a little bit of sense," said Melissa Taylor, who also works in the building.

“Yes, it can take a while to wait for an elevator, McKey said, "but again, that's part of the charm. I leave five minutes before I would otherwise leave because it takes forever, but so what, my goodness!"

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Smith Tower has some long-time elevator operators but Unico said they are contractually bound not to be interviewed.

The company said it will make sure each is "well taken care of."

Smith Tower managers say they plan to keep one operator in the single elevator serving the observatory and speakeasy-style bar on the 35th floor.

That means if you visit Smith Tower, you'll still get the operator experience.

But for workers in the building who take different elevators, the trips will become more efficient, and a lot less personal.

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