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Ups and Downs

Photo by Kevin Scanlon

For nearly 30 years Ruben Pardo has worked in the same building, held the same job title, and occupied the same 6-by-8-foot office space — except that it keeps moving from floor to floor: He’s one of the city’s only elevator operators.

“I was born to go up and down,” says Pardo, 63, the doorman and elevator operator in the Wilshire Tower at 5514 Wilshire Boulevard, a historic landmark completed in 1929 by A.W. Ross, the developer who is credited with giving Wilshire left-turn lanes and the first timed traffic lights in the United States. The 11-story Art Deco building, which was once anchored by the popular men’s clothing store Desmond’s, is now home to Ace Gallery, the architecture firm Barton Phelps & Associates, fashion designers and writers.

“The reason I like elevators is because I love the public — the good, the bad and the ugly,” he says. “I try to be nice to the bad and the ugly, and the good, I treat them like kings.”

Pardo, whose parents were from Spain, grew up on the South Side of Chicago. “I was a paperboy, and I used to read the headlines: ‘Extra! Extra! Read all about it!’ I did so well that I made more in tips than the paper cost.” When his mother took him to old buildings with elevators, “I fell in love,” he says. “I learned from the old-timers who wanted to retire.”

In the early ’60s, Pardo first took Route 66 to Los Angeles. He traveled between the cities for some years before settling in L.A. Then, in 1976, he “heard about this lady and a job opening.” He’s been at the Wilshire Tower ever since, and besides the people, he appreciates the old elevator’s mechanics.

“If it was automatic, I would not be here,” he says. “The doors, the lever, everything — to drive the elevator you have to know how to level the elevator with the floor. Ninety-nine percent of the time I do it perfect.” He says people are surprised he does it so precisely. “But precision is my favorite word.”


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