Nun Wants Department Store Revolving Doors Preserved

CLEVELAND (AP) - When a nun discovered the inventor of the revolving door had local ties, she went out in search of his work.

"On my lunch hour, I would go from building to building, in-and-out and back-around to get a good look at the doors," Sister Rose Mary Hoge said. "I was afraid somebody was going to report me."

Hoge, who is a librarian at the Cleveland Public Library, learned that the revolving door was invented in 1888 by Theophilus Van Kannel while trying to answer a patron's question on "Who invented the door?"

Van Kannel was buried in Cleveland and his doors had been installed in several downtown buildings during the early part of the last century.

Hoge finally revolved through Dillard's downtown department store, where she discovered what may be the only Van Kannel doors left in the city. There are nine of them, made of walnut and bronze and stamped with the Van Kannel name.

The doors have been revolving shoppers in and out of the department store for 70 years.

Dillard's is closing the store next month and Hoge is worried about what will happen to the doors. She wants a museum or historical organization to preserve them.

"The doors are significant," she said. "And the fact that Van Kannel has ties to Cleveland is important."

Van Kannel was born in Coshocton, Ohio, in 1841, the son of Swiss immigrants, and lived in Cleveland at various times.

As an inventor, he patented about 50 mechanical gadgets, including a machine for removing stones from cherries and an amusement park ride.

Van Kannel invented and manufactured the revolving door in Philadelphia and opened a retail store in Cleveland in 1902 to sell them. His company motto was: "Always Open, Always Closed."

Van Kannel doors were installed in hotels and fancy buildings all over the world, including the Waldorf Astoria and St. Regis hotels in New York, the Hotel Regina in Paris and the Rockefeller Building in Cleveland.

In 1930, International Steel Co. of Evansville, Ind., bought out Van Kannel, but kept the Van Kannel name.

In 1931, International Steel sold nine doors from the Van Kannel line to the Higbee Co.'s store on Public Square, which later became Dillard's. The total cost was about $16,000.

International made its last Van Kannel door in 1954.

"There are thousands of them still in use today," said Rick Fark, a sales manager for International. "It's not unusual to get 100 years out of a Van Kannel door."

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)