The much anticipated grand opening of Lynchburg, VA’s first true skyscraper had been scheduled for July 4, 1931, but a last minute political twist changed the Oppenmeyer Tower’s fate forever.
Joseph J. Oppenmeyer, a newly-transplanted European diamond mogul, commissioned the building’s design and construction in 1929. Construction had been steadily progressing for three years and was only two weeks from completion, when the Federal Land and Buildings Commission passed a national ordinance that required any building over four stories tall to include an elevator.
The final design for Oppenmeyer’s seventeen-story building, unbelievable by today’s sensibilities, did not include an elevator.
The Elevator Ordinance, as it was later referred to, infuriated the cash-strapped Oppenmeyer, who was badly in need of tenant income, as his fortune had been in slow but sure decline since the onset of the Depression. No amount of last-minute political lobbying in Washington D.C. could secure a grandfather clause for the Oppenmeyer Tower, which stood on June 30th completed but empty, lacking an all-important occupancy permit.
On the first day of July 1931, in total dismay and disgust over the situation, Oppenmeyer publicly vowed to hurl himself nude from the building’s pinnacle at noon on the rapidly-approaching July 4th holiday. His demise was averted, however, mid-morning of the 4th, when it was announced to the gathered crowd of newspaper reporters and curious onlookers, that the Allied Arts Group, an out-of-state consortium of silent investors, had agreed to buy the Tower (for pennies on the dollar, however). The Allied Arts Building officially opened six months later with a new name and a newly-retrofitted elevator. Ironically, Joseph Oppenmeyer, forced into bankruptcy in the meantime, spent the remaining five years of his life as an employee of the Allied Arts Group – operating the elevator.