One of City's Last Elevator Operators Now Free of 'Vertical Alcatraz'

By Alisa Hauser on November 4, 2013 12:12pm | Updated on November 4, 2013 12:22pm

 Victor Maslon has worked inside of the Northwest Tower's hand-operated elevator at 1600 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park since 1985. After 28 years of service, Maslon's last day of work was Friday.
Victor Maslon, Elevator Man
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WICKER PARK — The ups and downs of being one of the city's last elevator operators are over for Victor Maslon, laid off from a job he described as both a prison and a second home.

Maslon already is plotting his return to the 12-story Wicker Park vintage office building where he had worked the hand-operated elevator since 1985. The Northwest Tower will become a boutique hotel sometime in 2015.

"My wife and I, we will rent a room for the night, buy Champagne and celebrate my freedom from vertical Alcatraz!" said Maslon, a 59-year-old Polish immigrant.

Friday was Maslon's last day on the job at the tower, 1600 N. Milwaukee Ave. He spent more than 25 years working an elevator covered in steel bars he estimates is about 65 inches wide.

In October, Convexity Properties announced its plans to build a 75-room hotel in the 37,000-square-foot landmark tower, which will include a modern elevator.

Evan Meister, a spokesman for Convexity Properties, said in an email that "We don't have a comment on Victor's last day," but added "We do appreciate all of his years of service at 1600 N. Milwaukee."

Maslon said he was laid off by his longtime employer Susan Dinko, whose real estate firm once owned the building and has provided property management services to Convexity Properties.

An Avondale resident, Maslon said that after he was told he was being laid off, he called his wife of 30 years, Rebecca.

"She knew it was coming. She said it was time," Mason said. 

Maslon said his job was "more psychologically hard than physically" due to being confined to such a small space from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., five days a week.

To pass the time, Maslon listened to classical and Christian music stations on a radio he kept in the elevator.

He also chatted up riders, including Paul Sill, the owner of a software company that moved out of the tower in March after renting offices on the 10th floor for several years.

Sill called his conversations with Maslon "the best part of my morning." Maslon's "small conversational nuggets" were welcome in the quaint, hand-operated elevator, which was "a pleasant surprise" for Sill's clients, too.

 The 12-story Northwest Tower also known to some as the Coyote Building at 1608 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park was built in 1929 and remains the neighborhood's tallest and most iconic building.   
Northwest Tower (Coyote Building)
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Built by the now-defunct Westinghouse Electric Elevator Company, the tower's elevator was installed in 1929 and required Maslon to control the elevator speed and the stops between doors. He used a brass wheel "right for down, and left for up," he said.

Though there are buttons inside, they only show which floors need elevator service and are "not for pressing," he said.

But that hasn't stopped riders from attempting to push them anyway.

"Some people go behind me and try to press the button. Many times this happens. These are not buttons, these are just lights, I tell them," Maslon said.

The elevator hangs from a thick metal cable and can hold about 10 people or 2,000 pounds, Maslon said.

After more than a quarter of a century of transporting people, Maslon said he "will miss the people, and the location of Wicker Park, Bucktown."

A daily attendee of a Catholic Mass at a church in Avondale, Maslon said he also will miss praying occasionally at St. Mary of the Angels Church at 1850 N. Hermitage Ave. in Bucktown.

After being given two checks for back wages and surrendering his keys to the building, Maslon invited a reporter to his office Friday as he stuffed decades of personal items into boxes and garbage bags. Maslon said "it's time" for the building to become a hotel. 

A city spokesman was unable to immediately confirm how many hand-operated elevators are left in the city, but there are very few. The Brewster Apartments, 2800 N. Pine Grove; the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave.; and a building in River North at 224 W. Huron St., still have manually operated elevators.

Maslon said messengers would tell him that of all the hand-operated elevators still operating in Chicago "this is the most primitive."

With the exception of a Sprint store, the Northwest Tower's 30 remaining tenants need to be out of the building by Jan. 31.

"Sprint has a lease in place with some term remaining," Meister said.