By Oren Peleg
Over 400 feet above downtown Los Angeles, Paul Martinez is standing on a small piece of scaffolding atop City Hall. He and fellow Local 11 electrician Chad Hudson are lifting a lighting panel in place that will help illuminate the building’s famous pyramid crown. This panel is one of the final lights being installed by Local 11 around the structure. When completed, some 400 LED panels and gobos will be able to wash City Hall in an array of colors and designs.
“So, let’s say it’s Filipino Independence Day,” says Local 11’s Jerry Pavia. “They can actually put the colors of the flag up there to represent it, and then have a big old show out in Grand Park.” The gobos that will be installed later in spring will be able to project imagery like the Batman signal that was displayed on City Hall after the death of actor Adam West in 2017.
“If you see the Empire State Building, it’s similar to what they’re doing,” Pavia explains. “San Francisco City Hall has the same thing, and then in China they do this show on one of the bridges — t’s all this LED lighting.”
Over the last six months, a 15-person crew of Local 11 electricians has been installing the lighting panels around the perimeter of the building on the first floor, and in strategic places on the fifth, seventeenth and twenty-fifth floors, as well as the roof.
Of course, the crew faced challenges wiring the 92-year-old building. “There was a moat around the building that nobody knew about,” Pavia says. IBEW made sure oxygen was pumped into the moat as the team drilled down under the building. “Just getting into these locations was tough,” Pavia continues.
In the parking garage beneath City Hall, Pavia points to an enabler bolted near the ceiling. Each enabler controls 12 lights, which is connected, through a Cat 5 cable, to the mainframe in the basement that controls the entire array.
Mike Luna, a Local 11 electrician on the project, explains how the light panels on the lower roof levels were anchored onto a seismically-reinforced, galvanized unistrut frame. This frame was then “anchored to the concrete below,” Luna continues. “Then we cut holes in the existing roof and mounted all this on footings to the concrete, and had roofing guys come back to reseal the holes so it doesn’t leak.”
Back up on the top of the building, as Martinez and Hudson secure the 75-pound lighting panel onto the pole that will angle it up towards the pyramid crown, Diego Aragon, a Local 11 electrician, notes that the union “had to bring in a company to engineer some anchor points and whatnot for where we’re hanging off the edge of the building.”
“On all corners,” Pavia adds. “You got these yo-yos, so whoever does come back here again will have all their safety devices attached.”
The lights are rated for 15 years, and painted in a weather-and-UV-proofed coating, to keep future maintenance minimal.
“Doing anything at that height is difficult,” Hudson says after descending from the scaffolding. “Even just putting a washer and a nut on a bolt is difficult because, obviously, you can’t drop it. And if you’re working with anything heavy, it’s difficult. It’s a little bit more stressful and scary, right? And that takes more time. You have to tie everything, and safe everything off. And of course, you’re tied off, too, so that takes a long time.”
I’m hoping by the end of April this will be done,” Pavia says. But the shows have already begun on the building’s facade. In February, the city paid tribute to Kobe Bryant using the light display. “That one was great,” Pavia concludes, “because they had it up all week.”