When Parker Center opened in 1955, it was home to cutting-edge police facilities: a crime lab, a traffic map room and a communications center. While its International Style architecture is timeless to some, the city has long argued for the demise of the building, a rundown footnote in bureaucratic history. In 2009, the Los Angeles Police Department opened a new, $437 million headquarters across the street.
On Friday, City Council voted unanimously to approve a Civic Center Master Plan that has no place for the old police facilities building, designed by Welton Becket & Associates and J.E. Stanton. The blueprint would raze it in favor of a $483 million, 27-story building that includes city office space and private storefronts.
The move was a blow to preservationists.
"Welton Becket was one of a handful of architects who shaped Southern California in its most significant period of growth in the 20th century," says architect and historian Alan Hess, who's working on a book on California modern architecture in the 20th century. "His contributions created the city that we live in, and we shouldn't forget that part of our heritage."
Becket also is credited with the Music Center of Los Angeles County, Hollywood's Capitol Records Building and the Cinerama Dome. But city officials, who denied Historic-Cultural Monument designation for Parker Center, decided the structure was not worth restoring — at an estimated $107 million — and that it was not as significant as Becket's other designs.
"Parker Center was not an exceptional example of Becket’s work," according to a statement from the office of local city Councilman José Huizar, who pushed for the Civic Center Master Plan.
Huizar also said Parker Center was a symbol of government trampling a minority neighborhood, Little Tokyo, by using eminent domain to destroy homes and businesses at a time when Japanese-Americans were just starting to rebuild their lives after World War II internment. He said that the former police headquarters would likely be gone by this time next year.
"The [Los Angeles] Conservancy is deeply disappointed in this action, as we have worked for more than five years to prevent the needless demolition of Parker Center," according to a Conservancy statement. "We strongly believe reuse and rehabilitation of the building are fully capable of meeting the city’s intended goals, and is the more cost-effective approach that can save millions in taxpayer dollars."
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Under the master plan, a bronze exterior sculpture by artist Bernard J. Rosenthal outside the building and a mosaic mural by artist Joseph Young inside Parker Center would be preserved.
Parker Center is the epicenter of the plan to create 1.2 million square feet of city office space, more than 1 million square feet of housing, more than 300,000 square feet of retail, 32,000 square feet of cultural space and 45,000 square feet of civic plaza, according to Huizar's office. While the plan spans 15 years and six phases, the demo of Parker Center is phase one.
In 1969 the building was named for late police Chief William H. Parker, a man who brought military discipline and tactics to the department at the cost of rapport with minority communities. Though it's been in countless movies and television shows, Parker Center's most memorable role was as a site of unrest after the officers accused of beating Rodney King were acquitted in 1992. Demonstrators destroyed a guard shack on the property as police in riot gear tried to fend them off.