‘Taken for granted until they’re gone’: Elevator enthusiasts and their quest to preserve vintage elevators

SINGAPORE: When most of us step into an elevator, we don’t think twice about the design of its buttons, the speed at which it goes up or down, or its age.

But for a group of elevator enthusiasts, these are things they pay close attention to.

“Seeing an elevator that has no doors, no mirrors, no windows… you feel like you are going back to the time of your childhood,” said Wilson Tan, elevator and history enthusiast.

It’s the small details that provide clues to an elevator’s age, and they can be anything from the buttons to the hardness of the brakes, said Tan, 23.

While some may see it as an unusual hobby, the social media accounts of elevator enthusiasts like Mr Tan, where they film their elevator rides, have garnered millions of views and thousands of followers.

His passion has also led the authorities to preserve an old elevator.

Recently, a group of enthusiasts contacted the National Heritage Board in a bid to preserve a 1970s Housing Board lift in Ang Mo Kio. The authorities listened to their arguments and accepted their suggestions: they would keep the elevator originally intended for the scrapyard.

But what led these elevator enthusiasts to take up this hobby and what are their favorite elevators in Singapore?

INTERESTED SINCE CHILDREN

Mr Tan became interested in lifts as a child and spent many days after school in an old lift installed in his Housing and Development Board (HDB) block. At that time, the elevator, which has since been replaced, only served the first, sixth and twelfth floors.

“I liked to just go around the elevator to take it from the first to the 12th floor, from the 12th to the sixth and then from the sixth to the first,” said Mr Tan, a hospitality and tourism student.

He recalled feeling nostalgic when the elevator, which was installed in the 1970s, was replaced with a newer one with windows.

It was this sense of nostalgia that led him to rediscover the hobby when he was a teenager. In 2016, he and his friends went to explore the lifts of a block of flats on Dakota Crescent, which was due to be demolished.

Since then, he has continued visiting old elevators around Singapore, taking photos and riding them.

Some of his favorite elevators include a nearly 100-year-old elevator in Singapore at the former St Andrew’s Mission Hospital in Tanjong Pagar, which is currently closed to the public, as well as an elevator in the “VIP Block” in Toa. Payoh, an HDB block famous for the visit of the late Queen Elizabeth II in 1972.