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Catching top-floor thrills

December 31, 2007|Jason Song | Times Staff Writer

You could get a good look at the downtown skyline from, say, the BonaVista Lounge while listening to Norah Jones and sipping an Amstel Light.

But if you want something more raw, hang 10 stories in the air, leaning over the side of the new LAPD building's skeleton with saws roaring behind you like nuclear-powered dental tools, sparks from welders raining down behind you and nothing except two thick wires between you and a long fall.

The antithesis of a bar or an office, it's like hang-gliding over downtown and hitting "pause" when the view's just right. No desk phones here, no burnt coffee, nobody's TV lunch popping out of the microwave; on a windy day, the wide-open top floors don't smell like anything at all.

The view's a strange mix. Things you're supposed to see but never do suddenly become clear -- who knew there was a clock on the south face of the Los Angeles Times building? And things you're not supposed to see suddenly jump out at you. Note to whoever lives in the refashioned loft with the yellow couch in the Higgins Building: Get some curtains.

Some people can't stand the height. One engineer's knees knock together every time he goes up top. Not Dave Bowers; he loves it.

Dave Bowers is the concrete superintendent at the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, rising on the square block bounded by 1st and 2nd streets, and Spring and Main. He spends most of his time on the ground.

Which is generally fine, but with the top floor open and the sky clear, when Bowers needs to scratch the itch to go as high as he can -- like a boy who wants to climb the highest tree just because it's there -- he just does it.

When those moments hit, Bowers hops on a steel-cage elevator to the 10th floor. He justifies the trip because he gets a bird's-eye view of the site and can peer down at his workers, checking their progress and looking for problems.

But the real reason is "it's bitchin' up here," says Bowers, who works for Tutor-Saliba, the project's general contractor.

It is bitchin'. Maybe that's why people crane their necks as they walk by, trying to see to the very top, where Bowers is standing, because they want to know what it's like. Maybe they glance skyward because this building is crisp and brand new, a full-fledged operation that gets bigger every day, not a static nip-and-tuck renovation.

Bowers wanders across the floor, dodging men pushing what look like plane propellers over concrete to smooth it out, and grabs his cellphone to snap a killer picture of Walt Disney Concert Hall like he's a tourist. He shot a photo the last time he was up on the 10th floor, but "this one is better," he says.

He lingers a bit longer, but soon his duties call. He has to get back to the ground floor, where the work site is muddy from recent rains. It smells like wet concrete and diesel down there, and you can't see Disney Hall.

Bowers calls for the elevator. He won't admit it, but he's a little disappointed. He's headed back to Earth.

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