Hume Hotel owner Ryan Martin

Hume Hotel replaces historic elevator

Original lift was installed in 1929, new one will feature heritage decor, smoother ride.

Hume Hotel general manager Ryan Martin has plenty of fond memories of the building’s elevator, installed in 1929, but his favourite was the time he took a ride with American comedian Bob Hope as his bellhop.

“I remember he looked down at me and said ‘it’s nice to stay in a hotel that’s older than you are.’ Then he said ‘I got golf balls older than you, kid’.”

Martin chuckled at the memory. “That was probably the coolest ride I ever had.”

(The legendary funnyman performed in Nelson in 1991.)

Needless to say, the elevator has nostalgic value for Martin, whose family has owned the hotel for 35 years. But now that it’s nearly 86 years old and replacement parts are sparse, modernization has finally caught up with it. Recently the maintenance company informed Martin it was time to upgrade.

“We’re going to keep some pieces of it, find a nice place to commemorate the elevator,” he says. “It’s sad on one hand, but it’s true that old adage: ‘they don’t make them like they used to.’ We’d been putting off modernization for years and years. It was a whole lot of money and it was hard to justify because it was so reliable.”

The elevator wasn’t without its mishaps, though. A recent door malfunction caused them problems, and once a power outage stranded a bride and groom between floors while en route to a wedding.

“I remember it was really difficult to get them out, but they still made it.”

The new elevator will retain some of the heritage feel, while fire-proofing upgrades to the chute will be completed.

“We splurged on heritage fixtures. We paid a lot extra to get those heritage push buttons. And we got a half-moon floor indicator like you’d see in the Empire State Building. We didn’t want a clinical one with no character.”

But the biggest difference will be the smoothness of the ride. Rob Ray of Kone elevators said the new lift will have gentle transitions between floors.

Without a doubt, it’s one of the oldest elevators in the Kootenays, installed during an era of major renovations that unfortunately robbed the hotel of its original Victorian-era look. It was manufactured by Turnbull Elevator Ltd. of Toronto, a company bought out by American-based Dover Corp. in 1966.

Retired Nelson restaurateur Cam Mah’s grandfather Fong Mah once worked as the hotel’s elevator operator — which is a bit hard to imagine since it only ever travelled five storeys.

A sign warned: “Caution! Elevator may not be level with floor. Please watch your step.”

“It just kept chugging away all those years,” said Ray. “It’s going to have the same look, and it’s the same box going up and down. We’re going to have beautiful features and all the same steelwork in the hoist way. But all the controls will be changed and it will be a lot smoother, with no hard stops, nice and gentle.”

On Tuesday Martin accompanied the Star to the Hume rooftop, to show what remained of the old elevator mechanism. On the following day a crane was scheduled to help with installation of the new one. The ejected control panel was laying on a pile of old wood and surrounded by historic-looking detritus.

Kane Pickard and Luis Mendes, two maintenance workers helping to prepare the shoot, mugged for the camera under the neon HOTEL sign.

The project is expected to take six to eight weeks and was timed to coincide with the hotel’s slower season. “We should be done in May and we’ll be back in service for the summer,” said Martin. “It’s amazing how much you realize you rely on an elevator when it’s taken out of service. It’s harder on the housekeeping, running linens up and down [the stairs]. We’ve hired luggage carriers to help our guests.”

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