Who Blew The Whistle On the USC Architectural Artifacts Warehouse Heist?

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Freeman House by Julius Shulman, 1953 (Getty Research Institute Los Angeles)

In exposing one distressing historic architecture world mystery, The Los Angeles Times might have just solved a second one.

As we read The Times’ story about the unreported theft of significant decorative objects from a Los Angeles warehouse, we were reminded of a lingering question regarding the curatorship of Greene & Greene’s Gamble House, a landmark that is jointly managed in a partnership between the University of Southern California and the City of Pasadena.

Below are several news stories and events, all related to significant Los Angeles County architectural landmarks with links to USC.

February 3, 2019 – Based on an investigation sparked by an anonymous tip, The Los Angeles Times reveals that priceless Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler furniture and artifacts were stolen from a USC warehouse circa 2012, but that no police reports were ever filed.

June 7, 2018 – Chicago auction house Wright sells a single textile block from the USC-owned, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel Freeman House, an artifact with poor provenance, for $5000. Weeks later, “The Times received an anonymous email describing the warehouse theft. The author also included a link to the auction and wrote that even if the sale was not connected to the theft, it was troubling. How could the tile have fallen into private hands when its ownership had passed directly from the Freemans to USC, the writer asked.”

August 10, 2018 – It is announced that Gamble House curator Ted Bosley intends to depart at the end of the year after 28 years over “differences of approach between himself and USC School of Architecture leaders over the future of the Craftsman icon.” No explanation of the differences of approach is given, leaving lovers of Greene & Greene’s great residential commission concerned, especially in light of the recent series of serious administrative scandals at USC.

We can’t help but wonder if recently departed Gamble House curator Ted Bosley is the anonymous tipster who alerted The Los Angeles Times to the USC warehouse theft, and if he lost his university position because the administrators who covered up the theft learned that he blew the whistle.

The community deserves to know the truth—about the warehouse theft, about any other losses of significant historical material in USC’s care, and about exactly how USC intends to do things differently at the Gamble House. It would be very sad if a dedicated professional was dismissed for doing the right thing, when USC would not. For while USC is charged with the responsibility of maintaining these landmark properties, they actually belong to you.

Save Parker Center

BREAKING NEWS: FORGET IT, JAKE… THE FIX WAS IN!

• January 20, 2019 – Government transparency blogger Michael Kohlhaas publishes a shocking cache of emails (part 2) from the staff of PLUM Committee members Jose Huizar and Gil Cedillo to Little Tokyo business advocates and non-profit development organizations, crafting a false narrative of broad public support for the demolition of Parker Center in a quid pro quo exchange for political support for Little Tokyo’s First Street North development project. (The Brown Act was violated, too. Then Parker Center rats infested City Hall.)


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)

Parker Center Tom Bradley Housing Center press conference 2018-05-24

• 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.

• early August 2018 – Demolition scheduled to begin August 20 and last 500 days. (Architects Newspaper, Rafu Shimpo.)

• 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.

• October 11, 2018 – Demolition timeline.

• January 20, 2019 – Government transparency blogger Michael Kohlhaas publishes a shocking cache of emails from the staff of PLUM Committee members Jose Huizar and Gil Cedillo to Little Tokyo business advocates and non-profit development organizations, crafting a false narrative of broad public support for the demolition of Parker Center in a quid pro quo exchange for political support for Little Tokyo’s First Street North development project. (The Brown Act was violated, too.)

• February 8, 2019 – News reports document a rat and flea infestation in City Hall and City Hall East, with a city employee claiming her typhus infection was transmitted in the office. City staff tell City Council they believe the rats came from Parker Center due to the demolition work there.

• March 2019 – Urban explorers snuck inside the doomed Parker Center, and we’re grateful for their documentary efforts.

• March 2019 – We imagine the FBI will be taking close notice of City Council’s selection of a private developer to build the replacement tower where the landmark Parker Center is presently being demolished.

• April 2019 – Did the rushed demolition of Parker Center contribute to a City Hall staffer’s typhus infection? Maybe yes, maybe no, but one sure thing is that the taxpayers will end up footing the bill.