The Art Deco building at 5514 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles towers 11 stories above the street. Once a department store, it now houses cutting-edge creative companies: an art gallery, a handful of web branding agencies, e-commerce retail operations.
But the building’s long history lives on in Ruben Pardo, who drives the 1929 elevator car up and down the building six days a week. At 75 years old, he’s the last remaining manual elevator operator in Los Angeles.
August 14 marked Pardo’s 40th year working the elevator; to commemorate his long career, the production company Dress Code filmed a short documentary of Pardo’s daily life in the building. Dan Covert, the founder of Dress Code, told It’s Nice That that he met Pardo while visiting the Ace Gallery on the building’s second floor. The Gallery is a giant in the L.A. art scene, Covert said, and Pardo is nothing but lighthearted as he ferries people up one floor to check it out. When the elevator doors open on the second floor, Pardo announces their arrival with the proclamation: “Ace is the place.” He then points out how accurately he lines up the bottom of the elevator with the floor. “Notice how I level it, straight on the money?” Pardo says. “Professional.”
In the video, Pardo says he became fascinated with elevators when his mother would take him and his siblings to shopping malls in the 1950s. “I saw these old timers do the elevators,” Ruben says. “That’s how I learned—I picked up the vibes.” While his brother and sisters went on to college, Ruben, the oldest, stayed working the elevator to support his parents.
Through years of 11-hour days and an hour-and-a-half commute to Wilshire, the people passing through his building have kept Pardo upbeat. He chats with everyone who steps on board. “He just takes so much pride in being a joy to the world and making people’s days brighter,” Covert told It’s Nice That. “His positivity is infectious.”
Manual elevators are all but nonexistent now, but for the Millennials who make up most of the employees at 5514 Wilshire, Ruben’s presence creates nostalgia for an era they never knew. The Los Angeles Times wrote that “the young people are not easily impressed—but something about Pardo awes them.”
And he has no plans to leave. “As long as the elevator runs, I guarantee that you will have me,” Pardo says in the film. “I will be your number one to drive it.”
H/t It’s Nice That