Byler Rise Higher

Ken Byler

A while back and to great fanfare, Kone Corp. opened its new facility in Allen. The new Kone campus on Century Parkway is impressive with its research and test tower visible from Central Expressway.     

What is Kone, you might ask? It developed elevators that don’t need a “machine room” to operate. All the operating machinery is in the elevator shaft.

When you stop and think about it, our world would look a whole lot different if not for elevators. Think about the downtown Dallas skyline. What would it look like if not for elevators?

It’s been said that the genesis of elevators was the Archimedes screw, invented in 350 B.C. The Archimedes screw could lift minerals and vegetables, but not people. People would have to rely on ladders and stairs for the next 2,200 years.

In 1852, Elisha Otis invented an elevator to carry freight to upper floors and then improved it to carry passengers. The first Otis passenger elevator was installed in the Equitable Life Insurance building in New York City in 1857.

Prior to Otis’s invention, buildings were never more than seven stories tall, with the poorest tenants living in the top floors and the richest living at ground level.

Elevators made skyscrapers possible. The Woolworth building, built in 1913, at 60 stories would be the tallest in the world until the Empire State building rose. The Empire State building was completed in 1931, just in time for a giant gorilla named King Kong to fall 102 stories after being shot off the top by machine guns fired from Army biplanes.

The first “skyscraper” in Dallas was built in 1909. It was the 15-story Praetorian Life Insurance building on Main Street. But the building that would serve as the signature of Dallas for many years was built in 1922. It was the 29-story Magnolia building with the neon flying red horse, Pegasus, at its pinnacle. For years, the Magnolia building was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River.

When I was a kid, it was a great joy to be able to go to “downtown” Dallas. It was a thrill to ride the elevator to the top floor of the Magnolia building. All the elevators were manually operated and usually had a uniformed “operator.” Elevators didn’t become passenger operable until 1960.  

Up until 1960, the flying red horse could be seen from Campbell Road just south of Plano. Now Pegasus can only be seen from Oak Cliff because it’s obscured by so many taller buildings. The Bank of America building at 72 stories, built in 1985, is now the tallest in Dallas.

There was a time when the tallest structure in Collin County was the Burrus Mill on Louisiana Street in McKinney. Standing next to the Burrus grain silos is what was once the tallest building in Collin County, a five-story warehouse.

Now the tallest building in Collin County is the State Farm Insurance building sitting next to President George Bush Turnpike. I believe the State Farm building rises more than 20 stories. More high-rise buildings are going up next to the Sam Rayburn Tollway.

Plano, Allen, Frisco and McKinney are often referred to as suburbs of the city of Dallas. That strikes me as not only inaccurate but insulting. Nothing lasts forever, and one day the city of Dallas will be irrelevant to the folks in Collin County. The more companies that move to Collin County, the less there’s a need to live in Dallas.

Time changes everything. Once the ground floor was the most expensive; now it’s the penthouse.

The Praetorian was demolished in 2013, and the Bank of America building has a different name. Today all that remains of the Woolworth empire, the builder of the world’s first tallest building, are Foot Locker shoe stores.

As ground gets more expensive, as long as there are elevators, folks will be stacked up on it.

One day folks in Collin County will rise higher and see farther than they ever imagined they would. 

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