A wonderful ride: 100-year-old manual elevator and operator are replaced

An elevator in one of South Bend's downtown historic buildings is being upgraded. This wouldn't normally be news except the elevator is almost 100 years old – and it is run by a person.

When you walk into the 1st Source Building at 205 Jefferson Street in downtown South Bend, you are greeted by a friendly face. Dora Moore is the morning elevator operator, but people who work there call her “the elevator lady.” With the push of a button and the pull of a lever, Dora runs the manual elevator.

The beautiful gold-faced elevator is believed to be as old as the building – about 96 years old – and the only one of its kind in South Bend.

"When I first came into the building I was asked to sign a lease that at that time I would not object to them changing the elevators. But that was 46 years ago," says 5th floor attorney Robert Lee.

Since the building was completed in 1916, the elevators have had some upgrades, but the elevator operator has remained. Sadly, for many of the people that work inside the building, the elevator is finally being upgraded to automatic.

"I always ask her if she is going to have a nice day. She always wishes me a nice day. Which is something we will not get from the automated elevators," says Lee.

And that is what people there say they will miss the most: the conversation. Because when the building closes Friday evening, the elevator lady's jobs will be obsolete. 

"I have loved having the nostalgia and also seeing them every day,” says Jennifer Butnaru, a 3rd floor attorney. “They are always smiling and happy. A happy expression on their face.”

Dora will miss that too. She and another woman share elevator lady responsibilities. One works the morning shift, the other in the afternoon. They both greet people inside the elevator as they go up and down floors.

"The people, yeah, I'm a people person. And I love to talk," says Dora.

And now, after the hundreds – maybe thousands of rides up and down the last few years, her time there is about to come to an end. But Dora, and all the guests she welcomes into her elevator every day, say it has been a wonderful ride.

Construction on those new automated elevators start next week and are expected to be completed by the beginning of next year.

As for Dora, she says now that she will have more spare time. She is going to make pillow cases and jewelry for Christmas.