Parker Center (Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, 1955) in Downtown Los Angeles is a building that inspires strong feelings.
Architecture lovers admire its beautiful lines and integrated artwork and plantings. Crime historians marvel at the first modern police headquarters with its cutting-edge forensic science laboratory, built to the specifications of the legendary Ray Pinker. Film and television fans enjoy its stylish appearances from Dragnet to Inherent Vice.
But Parker Center also symbolizes the dark side of Los Angeles policing, and was a place where protesters came over many decades to challenge authority that harms their communities. And stakeholders in Little Tokyo regret the loss of a block of small businesses for Parker Center construction.
Despite the advocacy of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Cultural Heritage Commission and independent preservationists and community members, Parker Center is a cultural and architectural landmark that is in grave danger of being destroyed within the year.
Attempts to preserve Parker Center have been stymied by Los Angeles politicians’ ambitions to redevelop the property surrounding City Hall. These plans have made it impossible to get a fair landmarking hearing for the building, even as the Los Angeles Conservancy’s independent analysis of the project suggests that as much as $100 Million in public funds could be saved if the structure was adaptively reused.
We are very concerned that the process by which landmarks are dedicated is not being allowed to follow its natural course, and that a great building might be lost for what is now only a speculative real estate development. We are also worried about what will happen to the art that exists within and on Parker Center: Bernard J. Rosenthal’s “Family Group” sculpture and Joseph Young’s “Theme Mural of Los Angeles” mosaic, which will be very difficult and expensive to remove from the lobby.
We will continue to advocate for the preservation and adaptive reuse of Parker Center, and will update this page with news as it happens.
A timeline of recent events:
• September 2016 – After City Council’s PLUM committee, headed by Jose Huizar, fails to consider a landmarking application in a timely fashion and internal city proposals recommend demolition, the Cultural Heritage Commission makes a rare attempt to save the building itself.
• December 2016 – Cultural Heritage Commissioner Gail Kennard publishes an eloquent defense of Parker Center in an L.A. Times op-ed, explaining that the building is worth saving for all the reasons some want to see it demolished.
• February 2017 – On political, rather than the legally appropriate historic/aesthetic grounds, Los Angeles City Council denies the recommended landmark status for Parker Center, ignoring the educated determination of the Cultural Heritage Commission.
• March 2017 – At the LAVA Sunday Salon, architectural historians Nathan Marsak, Alan Hess and Richard Schave present an illustrated lecture and walking tour advocating for the preservation of Parker Center. Watch video of the event here.
• April 2017 – City Council promotes the demolition of Parker Center as stage one in the process of creating a clean slate around City Hall that can attract public-private investment partnerships.
• October 2017 – City Council explores the immediate demolition of Parker Center.
• November 2017 – in The Architect’s Newspaper, Louis Naidorf, who worked on the project under Welton Becket, asks why Los Angeles would demolish a pleasant, adaptable office building like Parker Center.
• May 2018 – In Curbed, Jill Stewart from the Coalition to Preserve LA says, “We think Parker Center is the No. 1 best property they could possibly turn into homeless housing. We hired an architect who said that 730 could be housed there. The retrofit would be very inexpensive. The city’s numbers are off the charts as to how much it would cost to retrofit—way, way off the charts. There’s a much cheaper way to do it, so we think they should look at the big empty city buildings and use them for homeless housing. We think they should stop being NIMBYs.”
• May 2018 – Coverage of the press conference calling for Parker Center to be adaptively reused. (photo by Esotouric)
• June 2018 – New report confirms the Los Angeles Conservancy’s analysis: the true cost of demolishing Parker Center and building a new tower is hundreds of millions of dollars more than the city claimed.
• June 16, 2018 – The Department of Cultural Affairs removes Joseph Young’s mosaic mural from the lobby of Parker Center, one of a small series of historic resource requirements that must be met before the building can be demolished. Video of the removal.
• July 3, 2018 – Los Angeles City Council votes unanimously to rush demolition of Parker Center, despite the true costs now estimated as $226 Million higher. Councilman Jose Huizar is determined to privatize the Civic Center and turn it into “a 24-hour destination” and you’re going to pay for it.
• July 11, 2018 – Activists pushing forward with plan to convert Parker Center into homeless housing.
• July 13, 2018 – Parker Center is #3 on Curbed L.A.’s list of LA’s most endangered buildings. “Led by groups like the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, and Esotouric, LA has a strong community dedicated to historic preservation.”
• July 31, 2018 – While the city races to demolish Parker Center (319,000 square feet) it’s considering its tiny neighbor, the derelict Children’s Museum on the L.A. Mall (14,000 square feet), as emergency homeless housing.
• August 15, 2018 – Housing advocates sue the City of Los Angeles to halt demolition of Parker Center over a $193 Million discrepancy between their independent engineers’ report on the cost to retrofit the building as supportive housing and the city’s estimate to do the same.
• August 20, 2018 – As demolition begins pending a judge’s determination on preserving the building, our Richard Schave goes on Take Two to talk about what made Welton Becket’s 1955 Parker Center such a progressive LAPD HQ. (interview starts at 40:00). See also this LAist story.