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LA Live's shifts are choreographed around lifts

Hundreds of construction workers finishing their work and crews fitting out the project's 1,001 rooms must carefully calibrate their work with the tower's three elevators.

September 09, 2009|Cara Mia DiMassa

Opening day at the Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels at LA Live is still five months away. But Room 1055 is a beehive of activity.

One worker attaches metal pins to the door of what will become the room's closet, his drill a quick, metallic syncopated whir. Another grunts away as he carefully attaches a mirror to the wardrobe's door.

When this two-man crew started installing wardrobes in the hotels, on the 52-story building's fifth floor, it took them 60 minutes to assemble the piece. Now, at the 10th floor, they can do it in under 45. And they are not even halfway through.

"It's like building the same puzzle over and over again," said crew chief Dave Shulman as he watched their work, an iPhone in one hand, a walkie-talkie in the other.

The word "puzzle" is one that Shulman, a principal in Project Dynamics, uses a lot. His firm is responsible for purchasing and installing pretty much every item that a hotel room might need: headboards, mattresses and linens; sconces and lightbulbs; mirrors and art; even the throw pillows.

At LA Live, which has 1,001 hotel rooms, each with 100 items and only three elevators to share among the hundreds of construction workers still finishing up the site, it will take Shulman and his crew nearly six months to complete their work, which began in August, on the two hotels. Each day has been cataloged with the precision of a military operation, a color-coded spreadsheet listing items, room types and shifts.

About a third of the Marriott's furniture -- the Ritz's still hasn't arrived -- is stored in a squat Los Angeles warehouse tucked under the Glendale Freeway, where stacks of cardboard boxes containing nightstands, desk chairs and lamps reach up to the ceiling. A carpenter's shop is set up at one end of the warehouse, allowing Shulman and his crew to make last-minute touch-ups to pieces before they move downtown, where a well-choreographed dance is underway to unload them.

Because of city regulations, each item must be unpacked in an underground garage at LA Live and carried by dolly into the tower. Down in the garage, three men in orange shirts and hard hats break the cardboard boxes down, while another wheels carpeting destined for the hotel's hallways toward the elevators.

Upstairs, eight teams of two fan out in the hotel rooms, each with a specialty: assembling the wardrobe, attaching a two-piece headboard to the room's wall, wiring metal sconces for each side of the bed. A checklist on the door of each room marks their progress.

The schedule is so tight that elevator operators and installers must coordinate their lunch breaks. The workday begins at 5:30 a.m. in order to accommodate testing of the building's fire system, which happens in the late afternoon after construction workers go home.

"All of our work depends on the elevators," Shulman said.

Before they began working in the hotel tower, he and his partners -- other companies well-versed in the art of installation -- practiced assembling the room's signature components, including a weighty wooden armoire pre-drilled to house a safe and iron, and an orange cabinet with metal legs that will house the coffee maker and be the last piece installed in each room.

Though the LA Live project seems massive, Shulman said it's nothing compared with his biggest job: "3,800 rooms," he said with a bit of bravado, making the LA Live's 1,001-room project seem, well, ordinary.

"Vegas."

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cara.dimassa@latimes.com

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