If you are writing about cities, and New York in particular, you will find The Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan a useful inspiration of the “truth is stranger than fiction variety.” Gems like the following one on the elevator wars have been buried in history too long.
Elisha Graves Otis invented the elevator in 1852, a feat that enabled buildings in Manhattan to rise beyond climbing distance. William Earl Dodge Stokes thought his prices, however, were even higher than the buildings. When Stokes built the monster Ansonia Hotel in 1904 he refused to pay Otis’s prices and started his own company for which he chose the name:
The Standard Plunger Elevator Company
This has to be the worst business name ever chosen. It’s one of the wonderful stories about New York that you will find in Steven Gaines’ The Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan (2005). The book is about the great residential buildings in Manhattan, the excesses of personal taste, the eccentricities of coop boards, the skills of the high-end brokers who make the deals, and who lives where. It’s great fun.
The Sky’s the Limit at Amazon
Steven Gaines has been a contributing editor at New York Magazine and his journalism has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Observer, the New York Times, Los Angeles, Worth, and Connoisseur. For several years he hosted a weekly, live roundtable radio interview show from the Hamptons called “Sunday Brunch Live from the American Hotel in Sag Harbor,” that aired from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day on the local National Public Radio affiliate.