There is/are with Singular/Plural Compound Predicate

A student recently asked this question. Which is correct?

There is an elevator and two stairways.
There are an elevator and two stairways.

Even Americans are often confused when “there” is used with a compound predicate.
Though I could not find a definitive answer (perhaps Holly can help me here), I would like to offer my perspective to help answer this question.

As a grammar purist, I agree with the answer given by Grammar Girl. If you rewrite the sentence with “there” at the end, the correct verb becomes obvious. A compound subject always requires a plural verb.

An elevator and two stairways are there.
Two stairways and an elevator are there.
=> There are an elevator and two stairways. (grammatically right but sounds wrong)

However, Americans hate things that sound wrong! At least this American (me) does.

Teacher Lee’s Solution #1: (easiest)

Since the plural verb is always correct, rewrite the sentence to place the plural noun first:

=> There are two stairways and an elevator. (grammatically right and sounds right)

Teacher Lee’s Solution #2: (most preferred)

Avoid the problem by rewriting the sentence without using “there”:

=> The building has an elevator and two stairways.
=> An elevator and two stairways provided access to different floors.
=> You can get there by using an elevator or two stairways.

Teacher Lee’s Solution #3: (least preferred)

Americans will often choose what sounds better over correct grammar. What sounds better is to match the verb to the closest noun:

=> There is an elevator and two stairways. (grammatically wrong but sounds right)
=> There are two stairways and an elevator. (grammatically right and sounds right)

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