By Oren Peleg
In 1966, the iconic crescent-shaped Century Plaza Hotel opened its doors in the Century City neighborhood of Los Angeles occupying the former 20th Century Fox back lot. Now, the entire four-acre plaza lot is getting a 21st century facelift with the help of IBEW 11’s finest.
The $2.5 billion plan is well underway with IBEW 11 electricians like 20-year union member Javier Pimentel, the project’s superintendent, spearheading a transformative overhaul.
“This is a really tough job,” Pimentel, 39, said on site recently. “It’s a city within a city. But the tough parts of this job stimulate your mind. You’ve got to be all in and a team player. Luckily, we’ve got those.”
The project calls for renovating nearly half of the landmark hotel’s 726 rooms and replacing the remaining half with more than 60 residences. It also includes erecting two glitzy 43-story residential towers, an outdoor public garden and ample commercial space for retail.
“It’s transforming the area,” Pimentel added while hiking a stairwell. “It’s really going to be stunning.”
Bringing the impressive renderings to life, Pimentel said, is presenting a variety of unique challenges. That sentiment was echoed by many of the 24 other union electricians with Rosendin Electric — inside wiremen, journeymen and apprentices — working alongside him.
“No way this job gets done without the fine union electricians we’ve got,” John Gerez, 43, another site superintendent, said. “A union labor force, with its skill, training and know-how, is what we needed.”
The complications of working on a “vertically-challenged project” that involves multiple structures with simultaneous work on different levels — hotel and residential units on different floors, parking garages, laying decks — and organizing manpower were frequently mentioned. The neighborhood itself presents certain obstacles: The site is in the center of a packed urban environment along Avenue of the Stars, tucked between the Century City Westfield Mall, 20th Century Fox and busy streets.
“Just getting our shipments presents logistical nightmares,” Gerez said. “We’re always planning ahead, making the most efficient use of time, allocating our five tower cranes to transport shipments.”
Art Ochoa, 34, a general foreman, touched on how the hotel’s status as a historic cultural landmark, which prohibits altering the facade, calls for creative solutions.
“It’s a historic building, and that comes with its own set of obstacles, so you’re dealing with an existing structure that you can’t just do completely new construction with,” Ochoa said. “You have to come up with different ideas and different ways of getting your work in.”
Off the job, Local 11 electricians can rest easy knowing their union throws its full weight behind them. George Juaregui, 48, an inside wireman installing electrical boxes in the hotel, knows how lucky he is to have the support of Local 11.
“The biggest benefit for us is how the union looks after our benefits, pay rates and ensures a good working relationship with our employers,” he said. “I’ve heard some real horror stories from the non-union guys, so I know how lucky I am.”
Max Lucatero, an inside wireman who has been with Local 11 for the last seven years is serving as deck foreman on two of the plaza’s parking garages. He oversees a team of five to eight electricians on any given day, doing deck work, getting prints in order, staying ahead for the next available deck, and helping make sure all five tower cranes on site have power. He said he owes his family’s comfort to his union status.
“The union is responsible for the solid pay and health insurance, really just everything that’s good for my family,” he said. “They really take care of us and it means a lot.”
With no official expected completion date on the books, the project is in full swing under general contractor Webcor Builders and electrical contractor Rosendin Electric.