Iron Workers Local 416 Transforms Historic Hall of Justice

LOS ANGELES—Dormant since it was red-tagged in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake, the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles is springing back to life. Members of Iron Workers Local 416 are working alongside other crafts to refurbish the 11-story, 88-year-old granite building as part of a $200 million project that includes major seismic reinforcement. They’re also building an adjoining nine-level, 1,000-vehicle parking structure, half of which will be underground.

The need to preserve historic elements of the ornate building, marrying new fixtures and technology with those used nearly a century ago, requires a high level of skill and precision. The high-profile project is a clearly a source of pride for Local 416 workers on the job.

“It’s a good feeling to retrofit something that was built long before any of these guys were born,” Local 416 president Marco Frausto observed. “This building is a landmark for Los Angeles. There is a lot of history here. From a construction standpoint, though, you are working on a building that has been closed since 1994.”

Jail Cells Become Offices

The oft-delayed project began in early 2012 and is expected to be completed in the latter part of 2014, when the 335,000 square foot facility will house offices for the Los Angeles County Sheriff and District Attorney. The five top floors, which were once occupied by jail cells, are being converted to three levels of office space. A courtroom will be repurposed as a conference room while historic stairways and law libraries will be restored to their former condition. A significant effort has been made to preserve terrazzo flooring, wooden elevator cars, and iron-and-brass staircases, which have been covered or stored.

A jail cell believed to have once housed Charles Manson will be on display in an Interpretive Center. The project team is focused on earning a LEED Gold certification based in large part on the ability to reuse and reclaim material from the building.

The Hall of Justice Repair and Reuse Project offers challenges that differ from erecting an entirely new building. For example, a vertical column of rebar that will run the entire height of the building needs to be built on site, piece by piece, instead of being fabricated elsewhere and placed in sections, Frausto said.

In many areas, workers are wearing masks. “There’s some lead exposure, and the possibility of asbestos,” Frausto said.

Highly Trained Workers

The project supervisor for general contractor Clark Construction, Greg Zinberg, noted his company’s partnership with Building Trades unions is yielding significant benefits, with safety-focused workers who are specially trained and highly reliable.

“Using union labor is very important to us,” Zinberg said. “When you consider the manpower needed, the talent and the organization required on a project of this scope, partnering with the unions is a key factor.”

Together with the nearby City Hall, the Hall of Justice has long been an icon of downtown Los Angeles. Although the county Board of Supervisors approved restoration plans in 2002 they were shelved due to lack of funding. In 2010 county officials secured federal “Build America” funding that enabled the project to move forward.

Clark is adding new interior shear walls and drag beams to ensure the building meets California’s stringent seismic code. Designers are mindful of what happened when the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake struck 19 years ago and are determined to include a skeletal steel structure that can withstand a similar event.

“I don’t work on retrofits too often,” said Local 416 journeyman Anthony Fike. “It’s a little more challenging and different skills are involved but it’s a good feeling to work on something like this, which is going to be so prominent.”