|The building upon its completion in 1912 -- The American Architect, September 18, 1912 (copyright expired)
Although variations of hoists and elevators were already in existence, this one had a significant difference. Otis devised a brake that would automatically engage should the rope break; preventing the platform from crashing to the floor. As word spread, Otis began building similar elevators for local merchants.
By 1854, as he opened his first factory in Yonkers, he had given up bed making and turned his attention solely to the manufacture of elevators, establishing the E. G. Otis Company. That year he not only opened his first factory in Yonkers but managed to astound the masses at New York’s Crystal Palace international exposition. Although marketing would prove to be one of his weak points, Otis outdid himself here. He stood confidently on the elevator floor as the contraption was elevated high into the air. The inventor then sliced through the rope as Victorian women gasped below. The safety brakes immediately deployed, stopping the elevator from falling. “Otis” and “elevator” were soon nearly synonymous.
In 1857 the Otis firm installed the first passenger elevator in the elegant new E. V. Haughwout Building on Broadway. In 1897, the same year that the firm installed the first electric-powered elevator in the Demarest Building, it came to the rescue of the Paris Exposition's Eiffel Tower. French engineers were baffled by the angled legs of the tower--elevators by nature required a straight shaft. In exasperation and with time running out before opening, they turned to Otis Brothers & Co. (Elisha Otis had died in debt in 1861) who solved the engineering problem.
Unlike their father, brothers Charles and Norton Otis were brilliant admen. The new buildings with Otis elevators--each one taller than the last--were used as marketing tools in Otis advertisements.
The firm continued to grow and, to eliminate competition, bought up competing companies. Two separate law suits, about a decade apart, along with increased government anti-trust regulation, forced Otis to consolidate is many related companies into the Otis Elevator Company in 1906.
Part of the outcome of the last anti-trust case was an attempt on the part of Otis to regularize its operations. A central headquarters building would help accomplish this.
In 1909 the Otis Elevator Company purchased land in the industrial neighborhood of 11th Avenue in Chelsea from Ambrose K. Ely. On the stretch of avenue between 26th and 27th Streets an elevator works (possibly already Otis) occupied a former iron works building. Otis commissioned the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell to design a multi-purpose headquarters building here. The firm, established in 1894, had already designed numerous New York City business buildings.
|Clinton & Russell provided the industrial building with a reserved dignity -- photo by Alice Lum
As the building neared completion The Western Architect said “the building is an imposing structure of modern architecture and construction” and The New York Times called it “a notable improvement in that quarter of the city.”
|Sketch from The Independent, 1912 (copyright expired)
|The Arts & Crafts-inspired lobby featured intricate brickword and multi-color tiles -- The American Architect, September 18, 1912 (copyright expired)
The year that the doors to the new building were opened, Otis installed the elevators in the world’s tallest building, the Woolworth Tower. Year after year architects and engineers came to 260 11th Avenue to arrange elevator service for new structures: The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, Chicago’s Sears Tower among them.
|A 1912 advertisement in The Evening World proudly displayed the new building (copyright expired)
Otis Elevator Company remained in the 11th Avenue headquarters for seven decades, finally moving to Midtown in 1974. The building that had been built and used as the home for a single firm was leased out over the years to smaller factories and offices.
|A century of use and weather has not detracted from the ambitious copper cornice nor the limestone trim -- photo by Alice Lum
By the mid 1980s Les Mouches was gone, replaced by Chippendales.