Thursday, June 3, 2010

More uplifting adventures

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — You have some intriguing tales to tell about downtown elevators, that range from possible hauntings to a Don Knotts 1950s movie line that had Las Cruces audiences rolling in the aisles.
In a recent Las Cruces Style column, I wrote about my uplifting travels in Downtown Mall elevators with grandson Alexander the Great in his formative childhood years, and many of you wrote, called and e-mailed to share your own elevator adventures.
“I read with interest your piece about elevators and our city's ‘rise.’ I suppose the new ones are indicative of progress of our town. One that your grandson most likely missed out on is the elevator in the Rio Grande Theatre. It wasn't part of the original building, but it has existed since the renovation completed five years ago,” said Doña Ana Arts Council president Kathleen Squires.
“If Alexander the Great had the opportunity to ride up in the RGT elevator, he surely would have been terribly bored … and chosen the stairs down. A one-story elevator, it is sweet, but very slow,” Squires said.
In fact, Heather Pollard, DAAC founder and past director, as well as a guiding force in downtown revitalization and the restoration of the Rio Grande Theatre, nominated what’s alleged to be the nation’s oldest adobe theater for another honor: “slowest elevator in the state.”
We should note that others nominated the Las Cruces Museum of Art and Branigan Library elevators for “slowest” accolades.
But Pollard has some powerful evidence, including a slow rider endurance feat by DAAC executive director Larry Broxton.
“The elevator has also gotten stuck, most notably locking in Larry for some 20 minutes,” Pollard said.
“The elevator is also said to be inhabited by a ghost — sometimes it goes up and down when no human person pushes the button,” reports Pollard, who is something of an expert on the history of elevators in the City of Crosses. “I remember when the Corbett Center and the Papen building were IT.”
The lack of elevators here inspired some very amused reactions from Las Cruces movie audiences in the 1950s.
Musician and songwriter Bob Burns of Las Cruces called to share a Las Cruces elevator story related to the 1958 movie “No Time for Sergeants,” starring Andy Griffith as U.S. Air Force draftee Pvt. Will Stockdale and his later-to-be-famed TV Mayberry deputy Don Knotts, who portrayed Cpl. John C. “Dexterity” Brown in the film.
“It shows them being inducted (into the Air Force) and they’re standing there in their skivvies, and they’re going around giving their names and telling what they did in civilian life. When it came to Don Knotts’ (character), he gives his name and says ‘I was an elevator operator in Las Cruces, New Mexico.’ Of course, nobody around the country knew to laugh, because at that time, there were no elevators in Las Cruces,” Burns said.
I also heard from a longtime Las Crucen who said he remembered helping to build some kind of a “lift” or elevator device while he was in college, at the old Newman’s Hardware Store on the Downtown Mall. I’ve talked to several natives, but have been unable to pinpoint exactly where it was: The consensus is that was in the same block where the Music Box is today, on the other side of the street.
Maybe we should all collaborate on an uplifting book, “A History of Las Cruces Downtown Mall Elevators.”
Actually, I hope it will remain a short history. I can’t help sympathizing with a Sound Off! caller who feels, “We should not be proud of the fact that we are starting to need elevators. One of the charming and wonderful things about Las Cruces was always how nice and low to the ground everything was. How we just blended in and nestled in our little Mesilla Valley. That is one of the things that made it unique. Elevators — who needs them? Who needs buildings that tall? We don’t.”
During daily commutes, when my views of the Organs are obscured, however briefly, by our new governmental buildings, I realize I’d gladly trade every elevator in town to preserve our low, slow way of life a little longer.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

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