Sunday, February 2, 2014

Worcester's first escalators

   Fifty years ago Denholms installed the first set of escalators in the city of Worcester.  Denholms was late on installing these and had plans to do so in the 1940's. With World War II going on, and plans for a facade change, the new mode of transportation would be put on hold until the 1960's.
Second floor

   In 1963 harry Wolf (President of Denholms) met with the Otis escalator company and came up with a plan to retrofit the 1880's building with two separate sets of escalators.  The plans called for a narrow glass enclosed escalator with hand screened baroque detailing on the side panels.  These escalators were custom designed for Denholms and are the only ones in existence in the United States to this day.  By the early 1960's, customers were still relying on the 8 banks of elevators of numerous staircases to access the upper floors.  The new escalators (or "Escal-Aires" as they were known for their light and airy design) would allow for up to 5,000 shoppers to reach floors 1-5 in an average of two and a half minutes.  The sixth floor and basement still required elevator or stairs to access.
Eric Hallback Display Director with Denholms shoppers

  As many people have commented, these were their first ride on an escalator and memories of gliding through the upper floors were memorable to this day.

  The escalators are still in use at the Denholm building and I encourage people to go in and have a ride.  It is one of the last things remaining of the glory days of shopping downtown.


  1. It really does seem like a long time to have escalators installed. But like everything Denholm's did, they were done with style. That's a terrific pic of mid-century women shopping. Chris, I've been meaning to pass on this blog: This researcher studies women's over 50 fashions in the 20th century. She often mentions shopping.

    1. Donna, thank you so much for reading the blog. Yes the escalators were and still are beautiful. Thanks for the new blog. I will have a look as I love stuff like that.
      Thank you!

  2. Chris - if I'm not mistaken the Worcester branch of Boston's R.H. White department had escalators when they opened for business in Lincoln Plaza on March 17, 1954 - in which case they may have actually beat Denholm's in having the very first escalators in Worcester.

    (But Lincoln Plaza was far-removed from the downtown shopping scene, White's was no Denholm's - and I can guarantee from numerous shopping excusions with my mother that their escalators paled in comparison to Denholm's!)

    1. I always wondered the same thing about whites? I have so many articles and ads from Denholms touting " the first escalators in the city". I am going to dig deeper.
      Thanks for reading!!!

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