The Top Job : Skeleton of L.A.’s Tallest Building Hits 73 Stories

Times Urban Affairs Writer

As a crowd of steelworkers, engineers, architects, developers and politicians watched the ceremonial raising of the last girder to the top of the city’s tallest building, the 73-story First Interstate World Center tower on 5th Street downtown, City Councilman Gilbert Lindsay said he wanted more.

“I thought I told them to build a 100-story building. What happened?” Lindsay, one of the shorter people present, asked jocularly. Lindsay has represented downtown Los Angeles for 26 years.

The new tower seemed tall enough Tuesday morning. For a while, the top was shrouded in fog, reminding some of the laborers present of the eerie mornings they had spent working high enough to be in the clouds, helping guide 22-ton horizontal beams into place.


“It is certainly the tallest building ever built by committee,” remarked one onlooker, referring to the eight years of bureaucratic backing and filling that preceded construction. After the tower was approved, it took about two years to build the frame. The $350-million building should be ready for occupancy before the end of the year.

About 200 people gathered to watch the last girder go up. Many of them signed the beam. Some were moved to write more than dheir names. “Hail Library Tower. Stand tall and forever,” said one. Another wrote, “We love LA. But we hate this building.”

Designed by I. M. Pei & Partners, an architectural firm with a history of distinguished work, the tapered tower is quite different from the prevailing mode of square-faced buildings downtown.

The tower is also a monument to political process. It grew out of negotiations to save the Central Library. In return for a guarantee of $110 million to renovate and expand the library, the tower’s developer, Maguire Thomas Partners, was allowed to build a much bigger building than allowed under usual circumstances. As part of the deal, Maguire Thomas also won the right to build a 54-story skyscraper on 5th Street just east of the tower.

The three-story library and the 73-story tower face each other across 5th Street between Flower Street and Grand Avenue. They will be linked by two landscape projects meant to complement each other: the library’s West Lawn and the Bunker Hill Steps, a broad outdoor staircase that will curve around the west face of the tower.

Built with Japanese steel and Italian granite and designed by the firm of a Chinese-born architect, the tower, like the city, represents a blend of cultures. Its 26,000 tons of steel and 44,000 cubic yards of concrete are also intended to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8.3 or larger, according to the building’s structural engineer, P. V. Banavalkar.

Yet, from Lindsay’s point of view, the building still falls short.

“I like big deals. Big things. Big everything,” Lindsay told the crowd. “Before I leave the council, we’re not only going to have a hundred-story building downtown. We’re going to have one with a restaurant on top. That will be my restaurant.”