Thursday, 29 October 2020

Historic Detroit Hotel elevator discovered during remodel in St. Petersburg, Florida

Historic Detroit Hotel elevator discovered during remodel in St. Petersburg, FL

On the face of it the headline of this article appears to be somewhat convoluted so let's begin by putting any confusion to bed and solving this apparent geographical jigsaw puzzle.

source - Tampa Bay Times
What we have here then is an 1890s-vintage elevator (or lift, as we call it on this side of the Pond) made by the Warner Elevator Company of Cincinnati, Ohio and which has recently been unearthed during the refurbishment of the Detroit Hotel - located not in Illinois but rather in St Petersburg.  Not the Russian city of St Petersburg though, but the town of St Petersburg in Florida.  All this confusion can be laid squarely at the door of the town's founders Peter Demens and John C. Williams, who as the article explains reached an agreement in 1888 to build the hotel as part of an important railway deal for the then new town.  Russian-born Demens, who was instrumental in bringing the railway to St Petersburg, gave the town its name in honour of his birthplace.  Williams, meanwhile, hailed from Detroit City and in exchange for buying the land from Demens decided to name the subsequent hotel after his home town.  I'm sure it all makes perfect sense to the native Floridans but, my word, they could have made it easier by just coming up with some original names!

Anyway, with the hope that that's at least partially cleared up any lingering misunderstanding (and not added to it) let's move on to the main discovery detailed in this article - and what a discovery it is!  It is nothing less than a fantastic find - a near 120-year old electrically-operated lift that has lain undisturbed for decades, boarded up and hidden behind some later remodelling work.  Now as part of some extensive works being carried out to turn the building into a steampunk-themed pub restaurant - an excellent and by the sounds of it welcome idea for the town - the original compartment, doors, motor and even cables (albeit long-since cut) have been uncovered by workmen brought in to gut the interior.  In addition many more early features were revealed during the renovations including an old staircase, fireplace, telephone switchboard complete with handwritten room numbers and even some sections of hand-painted wallpaper!

These revelations alone are remarkable for - as local historians have said - there is little left in St Petersburg of its early history, so a discovery such as this is especially significant and rightly of great importance to the town.  The unearthing of something on this scale is arguably of even greater scope than mere regional interest, for there cannot be that many buildings left in the world of such an age that are still hiding such wonderful gems and in America especially where something of this age is considered practically ancient it is a particularly noteworthy find.

source - Tampa Bay Times

I'm therefore delighted to see that not only have these incredible vestiges of the hotel's early years been found but that everyone involved in their rediscovery, from the owners to the contractors, recognise the importance of them and what is more are keen to incorporate them into the building's redesign.  Everything looks likely to be inventively saved in one form or another - the lift to be converted either into a private dining table or photo booth, the stairs kept on show as a centrepiece and even the wallpaper framed.  That the theme of the new venue is to be a steampunk one is indeed a splendidly fitting coincidence and has assured these valuable relics will be preserved for the people of St Petersburg to enjoy for years to come.  The whole project sounds most impressive and I look forward to seeing the end result; should I ever find myself in St Petersburg, Florida I would certainly make a point of visiting the finished eatery. 

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