The inside of an elevator might seem an odd place to consider the current state of superstition in America.
But there they are, in many high-rise hotels and residential towers: Elevator buttons that go up to the 12th floor, skip 13 and continue to the 14th and beyond.
Of course, those buildings actually do have 13th floors — they’re just not marked 13, a number long considered unlucky.
But could that superstition-based construction quirk be changing in Tampa Bay’s current building boom?
Witness Water Street Tampa, the sleek neighborhood rising at the southeast edge of downtown. New residential towers Cora, Asher and Heron all were built with marked 13th floors.
The nearby Edition hotel which opened last fall, however, does not have a 13th floor — at least, not one that’s marked 13.
The Ritz-Carlton Residences going up on Tampa’s scenic Bayshore Boulevard won’t (technically) have 13th floors. But a 23-story luxury residential building called The Nolen in the works in St. Petersburg will.
“Honestly, we did discuss it,” said Bowen Arnold with The Nolen’s lead developer, DDA Development.
“I think traditions are great and part of what we do in America,” he said. “This one just doesn’t make any sense to me. We thought it was kind of time to do something different.”
“Friday the 13th doesn’t scare us either,” Arnold said.
As for those Water Street Tampa apartment towers with 13th floors?
“Not a lot of people still believe in the superstition, we felt,” said Damian Presiga, senior vice president of development for Strategic Property Partners. A city policy encouraging sequential numbering of floors also had an influence, he said.
“Our vacancy’s really low in these apartments,” he said. “Right now, Heron is 98% occupied, so there’s people living on the 13th floor as we speak.”
So why has 13 long been considered unlucky anyway?
It’s been connected to the Last Supper, with Judas as the 13th guest — which also explains the superstition that 13 people at the dinner table is bad luck — and there are other explanations as well.
And why are people superstitious?
“We don’t like uncertainty. We like to have control and predictability in our lives,” said Stuart Vyse, psychologist and author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.” Negative superstitions — black cats, number 13 — were likely “originally developed as an explanation for the bad things that happen in life.”
Someone who avoids the number 13 or walking under ladders “has a feeling they’ve done something to make their life work out better, even though that feeling is an illusion,” Vyse said.
Fear of 13 is pervasive enough to have a name — triskaidekaphobia. Planes sometimes don’t have 13th rows, and some airports don’t have Gate 13s. In Russia, according to Vyse, homebuyers can be offered a discount to live on the 13th floor.
Business wise, the perception that 13 is unlucky appears to be of particular concern for hotels.
A 2007 Gallup poll found 13% of people — an interesting number — said it would bother them to be given a hotel room on a 13th floor. Most who were bothered said they would ask for a different floor. This could create a continuing headache for hoteliers, given their regular influx of customers of varying beliefs.
But when it comes to residential towers, there’s a reason that newer ones in Tampa might be seeing more 13th floors.
Before 2008, developers of Tampa rental and condo towers numbered the floors themselves. Now, the city requests that all floors be numbered sequentially, as in, not skipping 13.
If developers want to bypass that 13th floor designation due to “hardship or other unique circumstances,” they can ask the city for an exception, said Tampa’s deputy administrator of development and growth management Abbye Feeley via email.
Having sequentially-numbered floors isn’t a codified requirement, but is strongly encouraged by the city.
“Our goal is to keep it uniform for residential structures in terms of balancing safety, emergency response, and addressing/mail and package delivery,” Feeley said.
St. Petersburg leaves the numbering of floors to the developers.
Toni Everett, a longtime Tampa realtor who deals in high-end properties, has had clients who would not live on 13th floors. And residences she has sold didn’t have them.
Homebuyers sometimes have other requests: “There are people who are religious and have specific numbers they like in their homes, and they make a point to find a home address with that,” said David Moyer, director of sales at Smith & Associates Real Estate. “There’s people who like their doors facing certain ways.”
As for 13th floors? “I think it’s to each their own,” he said. “Everybody’s different.”
Some speculate that young residents may be less concerned with superstition.
“I think the younger generation just has removed itself to a degree from tradition,” said Everett. “They’re more open.”
“It’s one of those old folktales, in my mind,” said Presiga. “I think a lot of the younger demographic don’t believe in the same superstitions that our parents or grandparents did.”
In some buildings, 13th floors have been designated mechanical, mezzanine or pool floors.
Skipping 13 can also complicate things when it comes to basic facts about a building: A tower with a top floor labeled the 28th floor, for example, is really a 27-story building.
“We do disclose it in our sales pitch,” Everett said.
Adam Smith, spokesperson for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, is about to move into a 13th floor apartment at Asher. He said he has zero qualms.
“I don’t believe in witches and I don’t believe in spells and I don’t believe in much superstition at all,” Smith said. “I just saw a great unit and didn’t care that it was on the 13th floor.”