Los Angeles Times
By THOMAS CURWEN
ck Smegelski pulled back the hoist lever with his right hand, calculating how fast his load was rising.
As operator of Tower Crane No. 1 at the construction site for the Wilshire Grand, Smegelski looks upon downtown Los Angeles from his cab, 900 feet above Figueroa Street. Below him stood the signature element of this $1-billion-plus project, the tower, soon to become the tallest structure west of Chicago.
“I’m getting toward the end of my career,” said Smegelski, 59. “So this building is a pretty big feather in my cap. This will be here forever. I can take my great-grandchildren here and show them that I built it.”
One day last week, Smegelski had a special audience, and though he couldn’t see or hear them, he knew applause was rising from the assembled dignitaries: architects, engineers, construction managers and representatives of the building’s owner, Korean Air.
“Hey up,” someone in the crowd shouted as the beam lifted by Tower Crane No. 1 cleared a latticework of steel that will one day support a skylight sweeping between the tower and adjoining ballrooms.
The 35-foot, 2,100-pound beam had been trucked in from Eloy, Ariz., and was tagged with signatures of the many people who had a piece of the project, from workers who poured the concrete foundation to executives who signed off on the plans.
Construction projects celebrate many milestones, especially ones as ambitious as the Wilshire Grand.
In 2013 came demolition of the 16-story hotel that once occupied this site. In 2014, workers poured the foundation, a marathon 18-hour event, and now this, the completion of the concrete core, the central pillar of the tower.
The ceremony, known as the “topping out,” is a tradition for high-rises and includes sending an American flag and a small fir tree to the highest point…