Nearly 87 years later, one of the last manually operated elevators in the U.S. continues to run flawlessly.
David Filippe, head elevator operator and assistant manager of the historic Oregon Bank Building, said it is one of five manually operated elevators left along the West Coast. It’s also the last indoor manual elevator in Oregon.
Filippe and his colleague Bert Bertagna continue to see lots of activity at the six-story office tower, which houses several medical, business and financial offices.
And even for its age, Filippe said the elevators are still some of the safest anyone could ride.
“They have so many backup systems that the modern ones do not have,” Filippe said.
The manually operated elevator was actually added in six months after its now automatic but older counterpart. The 87th anniversary of the building’s grand opening will be this spring.
The Oregon Bank Building, at 905 Main St., first opened its doors on March 3, 1930 as the headquarters of the then flourishing Oregon Bank and Trust Company, according to records from the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was built for Nathaniel E. Berry and designed by architect Gerald C. Field, both who hailed from Seattle.
But the bank was not so successful when the Great Depression hit – the building saw huge changes in 1933 after Oregon Bank and Trust had to shut down. It eventually became known as the “medical-dental building” and has seen everything from healthcare professionals to retail shops and restaurants on the ground level.
Now listed among the National Register of Historic Places, owner Mike Hohman bought and helped renovate the landmark with his wife, Nora, decades ago. Construction costs for the building were first around $300,000, which Filippe said only took roughly six months to build. The building’s current market value is now close to $1 million, according to Klamath County tax records.
The Hohmans put a lot of money into fixing the building, which may have otherwise been torn down. Repairing one of the elevators alone cost about $100,000, according to Filippe.
Filippe, who started his now part-time gig six years back, said he was once even trapped inside the Oregon Bank Building elevator with his grandmother and mother while heading to a dentist appointment. He also recalls the experience in a Herald and News series on “Odd Jobs” back in 2013.
Beforehand, he had a phobia of elevators.
“And now here I am working in the same elevator that started it,” Filippe said.
The elevator operators function as receptionists for the entire building by either guiding passengers to their destination or offering history lessons about the location.
Unfortunately, some fixtures in the cars needed upgrades to meet safety standards over the years. Regardless, Filippe said that the Hohmans have kept them as authentic as they can – each elevator car still has many of their former prominent features and utilities maintained, while any fixtures removed now sit in a glass case in the building’s central lobby.
Gary Schriver, a journeyman elevator mechanic with Straight Up Elevators Co., said he has enjoyed maintaining the elevator since 2007. Schriver, along with Filippe and the Hohmans, has worked to maintain the elevator’s authenticity.
When he first saw them, Schriver said he was impressed with how intact the classic elevators still were. He routinely checks up on safety codes, compliance and any needed upgrades.
“Those were, by far, the most complete, original, unchanged Otis elevators I’ve ever seen,” Schriver said.
Unlike more modern elevators, the Oregon Bank Building Otis lifts are designed to travel upward instead of downward in the off chance that any of the cables malfunction.
“There’s a lot of thought that has to go into them to make sure they’re safe to carry passengers,” Schriver said.
Blending past and present
Sticking to the past in terms of design has not stopped the Oregon Bank Building’s elevators from reaching audiences in more modern ways.
Updates, which include highlights of the elevator’s holiday and open house festivities, continue to pop up on social media.
In 2013, they had to switch out an older control center that clanked and sparked each time it operated. Hohman took an opportunity to film the older panel before it got removed, later posting it to the Elevator at the Historic Oregon Bank Building Facebook page. In it, Hohman describes the intricacies of such a system and how it uses computer processes to complete its tasks.
Filippe said guests were not previously allowed in the roof-level “penthouse” because of the extreme amounts of electricity that flowed through the “Frankenstein-like” device.
“If you touched it, you would die,” Filippe said of the old controller.
As older buildings continue to age and change, Filippe often encourages new visitors to stop by and explore the office building, an activity he said some lifelong residents of Klamath Falls may have not even yet done.
“It’s something that’s different but you’re not going to see anywhere else in the whole state,” Filippe said.