Elevator Woes: Down in the Dumps to the 59th Floor


Hello. It’s Tuesday. We’re going to look at a high-rise building where residents can’t rely on elevators. Note also Alligator in the Sewer Day, which had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Several years ago, the editor of Elevator World magazine told me that elevators made the modern vertical city possible. “It would have been a two- or three-story world, unlike now,” he said.

A building that once towered over the financial district recalled his comment. This building was one of the tallest in Lower Manhattan when new in the 1930s, when the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building seemed to pierce the Midtown sky. The elevators in this building rose 59 floors above the street. It housed a bank.

Now, after being converted into apartments, it’s home to tenants paying up to $5,000 a month for a bedroom, and they’re angry. More than a dozen described living in what has been called “skyscraper hell”.

They are furious because elevators that are supposed to go up to floors above 15 are often out of order for hours at a time, tenants say. But interruptions due to lack of service were not the only ones they had to deal with. When the elevators were working, there had been scary moments: some residents say they experienced sudden jolts.

The elevators that serve the lower floors continued to operate, amplifying the annoyance of upper-floor residents who enjoy their sweeping views of New York Harbor.

Much of life in New York is defined by the elevators. There are 70,000 passenger elevators in the city. When they break down, there are disturbances, whether in a luxury building or in HLM complexes, which are often affected by service problems.

Tenants in the Lower Manhattan building at 20 Exchange Place were late for work, missed appointments and canceled plans. “Our lives completely changed the moment those elevators stopped working,” said Faisal Al Mutar, 30, who lives in a 22nd-floor studio.

Some tenants have even considered moving. But as my colleagues Karen Zraick and Ashley Wong write, how do you get out of a skyscraper without an elevator?

Those who are able have climbed many stairs. A software engineer got so used to the trek that he signed up for the 102-story Tunnels to Towers charity climb at One World Trade Center in June. Others worry about neighbors who can’t make the trip or who may face delays in getting medical attention in an emergency.

The building’s owner, DTH Capital, says the problems are likely related to electrical surges at Con Edison. They say the elevator operating panels burn out frequently – so often that elevator mechanics have been hired to work the building 24 hours a day. The owners also say they have tried to buy the boards in bulk , but supply chain issues have limited the number available.

Con Edison says he performed extensive testing in the building and found “no indication that our power supply is deficient or compromised”.

“To date, no plausible theory has been presented to us as to why the elevator problems, which have developed since the start of work to install a new elevator system, are related to the equipment or serving Con Edison,” the company said in a statement.

For the moment, the inhabitants are relentless. After working a 12-hour shift as a nurse, Erin Campbell arrived at the building at 8:30 p.m. and was told the elevators to her floor would be out of service until about 11 p.m. She walked to the 48th floor.

“I just started crying,” Campbell, 28, said. “I’m a young, fit person, so I can do it. But it’s misery.”


It’s a sunny day in the 40s in New York City with temperatures dropping to 20 degrees overnight.

alternative parking

Valid until April 14 (Maundy Thursday).

The pandemic has forced the cancellation or postponement of events from the New York City Marathon to the New York International Auto Show to Alligator in the Sewer Day.

Yes, Alligator in the Sewer Day, an annual celebration started by Michael Miscione when he was the Manhattan borough historian to commemorate the landmark alligator sighting – an episode that instantly became the most enduring urban legend in the city, even though experts have repeatedly said alligators couldn’t last in the cruelly foul water and cold temperatures underground.

It lingers in more than Miscione’s mind. Thomas Pynchon’s novel “V”, published in the early 1960s, describes a city-run alligator patrol whose pace was underground. “They worked in teams of two,” Pynchon wrote. “One held the flashlight, the other carried a 12-gauge shotgun.” Pynchon said the Chief knew that “most hunters view the use of this weapon as anglers feel the blasting of fish, but he was not looking for articles in Field and Stream.”

The incident that prompted Alligator in the Sewer Day unfolded on February 9, 1935, when three East Harlem teenagers shoveling snow spotted an alligator in a storm drain.

“They couldn’t start well enough on their own,” Miscione said. “They then removed the sewer cover and acquired a lasso.” (There were conflicting reports about where the lasso came from. The New York Herald Tribune said one of the boys ripped his mother’s clothesline. The New York Times said he got it at a nearby hardware store.)

The Times said the clothesline boy – Salvatore Condolucci, 16 – fashioned a noose and lowered it into the sewer where, after ‘several tantalizing near-holds’, he managed to slip it around of the alligator’s neck. The boys pulled the alligator down the street.

“He sat there,” Miscione said.

Until they try to pull the rope.

“The alligator came to life and attacked the boys,” Miscione said. The Daily News said the alligator missed Condolucci “by THAT much”. Phew!”

The boys reacted immediately. “The shovels that had been used to pile the snow on the alligator’s head,” the Times said, “were now going to rain down blows on it.” They took the dead alligator to the hardware store, where there was a scale. He weighed 125 pounds.

Miscione launched Alligator in the Sewer Day on the 75th anniversary, in 2010, with a proclamation from Scott Stringer, the borough president of Manhattan at the time. Miscione hosted an event on the steps of City Hall. He had planned to hold this year’s celebration on Feb. 9 but postponed it, he said, at the request of where he was to lecture.

The make-up version on Tuesday will take place at 6 p.m. at the General Society Library in Midtown Manhattan. He said on Monday seats were full but the rally would be streamed online for those who registered.

“Even now,” he says, “I think the story plays into the scale of the city and its dark, hidden places. The sewer system is as big as the city and no one goes down there. And the story is both mysterious and wild. We’re talking about a wild animal. We’re not even talking about a dog or a raccoon.


Dear Diary:

I jumped into a taxi stopped at a red light on Park Avenue. The taxi was immaculate and the driver was, as my parents would say, a real gentleman.

Suddenly, half way to where I was going, he asked: As we are at a red light, can I feed the birds?

Yes, I nodded.

He jumped out of the taxi clutching a large bag of seeds and began spreading it among a large group of pigeons loitering around the mall.

Do you do this often? I asked when he came back.

It’s hard to find a meal in winter, especially for small birds, he says.

Then he burrows into another bag to toss a big bread crumb or two to a waiting sparrow.

—Marcia DB Levy

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Submit your submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we can meet here. See you tomorrow. —JB

PS Here is today’s one Mini-crosswords and spelling bee. You can find all our puzzles here.


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