Taking Flight in a Gilded Cage

Brian Cass, 45, soars and plummets about 300 times daily operating one of the two ornate open-cage elevators in downtown's historical Bradbury Building. This 1893 structure at 3rd Street and Broadway is built around a center court topped with a huge skylight. The Los Angeles Police Department's Internal Affairs occupies floor three, and hearings--in misconduct investigations such as the Rampart corruption probe--are held on five. Other tenants include lawyers, business people, the city attorney and the state controller's local office. Tourists and the homeless are also part of the daily scene, which makes Cass feel as if the world passes in front of him.


How did you get this job?

The security company I worked for sent me here as a trouble-shooter to soothe clients. Soon I was spending my days as the [main] elevator operator, but I also make sure the building is secure.

Do LAPD case participants talk in front of you?

I'm considered neutral. Once they feel relaxed and see that no leaks have gotten out, they keep talking. Sometimes a client will look at defense reps and lawyers like they should stop talking, and they'll say, "He's OK."

What do you discuss with regulars?

I'm a shortstop on a semipro men's senior league baseball team, the Colt 45s, and most of the men talk baseball. I show them my two "World Series" rings that my team won.

Unusual experiences?

Only the homeless seem to know they can go up to Internal Affairs to file complaints in the duty room. One elderly woman used to come every Monday and bring her letter at 8:30 a.m. She brought her bag and luggage on wheels with her in the elevator. Ten minutes later she came back down.

What makes a good elevator operator?

You must like talking to people and smile. The operator must be serious, especially the first time people come in and ride.

We have to ask: Has your elevator gotten stuck?

Yes, but you can always get out because the door will open. No one has freaked out, but people who are afraid of heights don't look down.

Rewards of the job?

An opportunity to watch, learn and know everybody. My grandmother sees public figures on the TV news and often asks me, "You know him or her too, don't you?" and I say, "Yes, I do."

It's a building with a history. Any run-ins with ghosts?

I work days, so I haven't seen any.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World