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The door to an original Otis elevator is on display at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The door was designed by Richard von Esdorf, who was responsible for the interior design of the building, under construction from 1871 to 1888.

Vintage Otis doors on display in prominent Washington office building

photos by Jordan Rae Kelly

Almost as much as it is known as the U.S. seat of government, Washington, D.C., is regarded as a cultural capital, a place of living history filled with museums and artifacts that illustrate who Americans are and where they’ve been as a people. The Smithsonian Institution alone is made up of 19 museums and galleries; vacationing tourists are advised to pick which they most want to see beforehand, as it would be impossible to go through them all during an average visit.

As if that weren’t enough, consider the memorials: Lincoln; Jefferson; Martin Luther King, Jr.; World War II; Korea; and Vietnam, with the Washington Monument towering over all.

Then, there are the halls of power: the White House; the Capitol; the Supreme Court Building. And, all across the city, you find architecture bold and ornate, or stately and classic. It seems as though you could spend an entire lifetime looking at what the city has to offer and still miss something. At the very least, you get the sense that there would always be something interesting and new around the next corner.

One such “something” would be these museum pieces on display at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building: original elevator doors and their architectural drawings dating back to when construction of the building was underway in the latter half of the 19th century.

According to the plaque mounted with the display:

“These restored elevator doors are the only surviving originals that were designed by Richard von Esdorf for the Navy Wing (East Side) of the State, War and Navy Building, as it was originally known. The design was approved by Thomas Lincoln Casey, supervising architect, July 21, 1878. The elevator doors were manufactured by Otis Elevator Company and remained in service until the late 1920s. They were discovered June, 1981, in an alcove above the Old War Department Library (Rm. 528).”

Also included in the display are original architectural drawings showing the design of the doors, as well as the ceiling of the cab. Of particular interest is Casey’s dated signature, an imprimatur of approval for the artful design.

About the Building

According the website whitehouse.gov, the building known today as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building was first called the State, War and Navy Building. It was designed by Supervising Architect of the Treasury Alfred B. Mullett in the French Second Empire style, and construction took place from 1871 to 1888. When it was finished, it was the largest office building in Washington, covering 662,598 sq. ft. of floor space, with nearly 2 mi. of corridors. Over time, the building’s original tenants (the State, War and Navy departments) moved to other locations, and Executive Branch offices — including the vice president’s staff — gradually moved in.  It was renamed the Executive Office Building in 1949, and in a ceremony in 2002, it was rededicated to honor President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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