RUSH FOR TAB RUNNING TONITE : Woodworkers Fill Important Role

Times Staff Writer

It may or may not come as a surprise to those who see high-rise office buildings springing up in downtown Los Angeles or elsewhere, but inside those sleek-curtain walls, an ancient craft is being preserved.

Law firms, brokerage houses and financial institutions may have the latest in computers, electronic typewriters and data bases, but they often have this state-of-the-art technology housed in offices that would make Thomas Jefferson or George Washington feel right at home.

Whether it be a traditional office, with crown moldings, beveled glass windows and fine paneling, or a more contemporary design with curved glass, specialized metallic wall coverings and modular office spaces, the work must be executed with the kind of craftsmanship many people believed had disappeared.

It hasn't, at least not at about half a dozen architectural woodworking firms in the greater Los Angeles area.

40 Years as Woodworker

Prominent in this category is Architectural Woodworking Co., headed by senior vice president John Heydorff. He shuns the title of "president," preferring to direct the operation from the shop.

Celebrating 40 years as a woodworker this year, Heydorff organized the present firm in 1962, continuing the tradition of a predecessor company founded in 1919.

A blunt-spoken man who knows wood as only someone who has worked with it for decades, Heydorff and his five sons provide custom-crafted wood products and fabrication, finishing and installation of tenant improvements in both new and older buildings.

Its products include executive desks, conference tables, credenzas, bookcases, computer work stations, elaborate staircases--a specialty--and just about anything made of wood or similar materials, according to one son, vice president J .K. Heydorff.

Customized for Clients

"Architectural woodworking can be grouped in three categories: economy, custom and premium," the younger Heydorff said. "All of our work is in the premium category, creating what interior designers and space planners have specified for their clients."

Among design firms that Heydorff works for are Reel Grobman & Associates and Walker & Associates, Los Angeles; Gensler & Associates Architects, Century City, and G .D. Moore & Co., Glendale.

In its 40,000-square-foot shop, the firm's workers, members of Local 721, a cabinetmakers and millworking union, fabricate and assemble virtually everything, according to the elder Heydorff. He has nothing but praise for the quality of work he gets from his woodworkers, many of them first-generation Americans.

"The four-year apprenticeship program conducted by the union is great, but it takes at least another six years to turn a journeyman into a proficient woodworker," he added. "We encourage our workers to enter contests and competitions for woodworking."

Thrives on Difficult Jobs

An interviewer quickly gets the impression that Heydorff thrives on difficult assignments, the more difficult the better. One of the most difficult was a recreation of the famous staircase in Pasadena's Greene & Greene-designed Gamble House for the office of a downtown financial institution.

Not particularly difficult for Heydorff's firm--which also has a custom furniture manufacturing division--was the construction of a beautiful small conference table with a top of carpathian elm burl for another financial concern. It's the kind of table that makes a woodworking enthusiast wish he had more time and skill.

Back in the go-go years of the 1960s, when brokerage firms were expanding, the firm did a great deal of work for stock brokers.

"One job required meticulous measuring to make sure all the cabinets and desks would be the right height for each employee," the elder Heydorff recalled. "When we brought the furniture in and assembled it, we learned that virtually all the employees we had worked with had left the firm. The replacements had to make do as best they could."

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