Among New Wilshire Grand workers, a hierarchy forged of skill and daring

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Working 300 feet above downtown Los Angeles, ironworkers position reinforcing steel onto the walls of the New Wilshire Grand.
Working 300 feet above downtown Los Angeles, ironworkers position reinforcing steel onto the walls of the New Wilshire Grand. "This is dangerous work," says foreman Otto Solis, "but it can change your life."
Working 300 feet above downtown Los Angeles, ironworkers position reinforcing steel onto the walls of the New Wilshire Grand. "This is dangerous work," says foreman Otto Solis, "but it can change your life."
Working 300 feet above downtown Los Angeles, ironworkers position reinforcing steel onto the walls of the New Wilshire Grand. “This is dangerous work,” says foreman Otto Solis, “but it can change your life.”

The elevator doors snap shut behind Otto Solis and his fellow ironworkers. With a quick shudder, gears kick in for a rattling 90-second ascent through the concrete structure rising at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles.

The men huddle in the confined space. Wearing hard hats, bandannas, kneepads and gloves, they look like gladiators ready to fight.

It’s the start of their 6:30 shift, a dark morning under drizzling skies at the construction site for the New Wilshire Grand hotel and office project.

Foreman Solis and his crew of 10 belong to a class of ironworkers known as rod busters. Their job today is on the 24th floor, where they will place steel that in three days will be encased in concrete, taking the structure up another story….

Even with the concrete core standing just a third of its eventual height of 73 stories, the view is spectacular. To the northwest: the observatory at Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign. To the west where Ballona Creek reaches the sea: a small blue line of ocean, now obscured by squalls.

On Figueroa Street below, pedestrians with umbrellas move like dots on the sidewalks. ….

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