A City Council committee voted Tuesday February , against designating Parker Center, the Los Angeles Police Department’s former headquarters, an historic monument.
The building is viewed by some as a symbol of the department’s troubled past on race relations, and the committee ultimately went with that view over the recommendation of the Cultural Heritage Commission to grant it historical status.
The committee members seemed too impacted by Parker Center’s sometimes dark history, and the fact that a key part of Little Tokyo was demolished to have it built because the city acquired the property through eminent domain.
Councilman Jose Huizar, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee chair, summed up his colleagues views with passionate remarks and sounded for a moment as if he was fighting tears.
“The building does embody an important story about the history of policing in Los Angeles,” Huizar said, but added that “in some instances, abuse of power, cruelty and racism.
This building epitomizes the (Chief William) Parker era, and it also epitomizes an unfortunate myopic relationship to its stakeholders, including but not limited to the long-term members of the Little Tokyo community.”
Parker Center has been mostly empty since 2009 when the department moved to new headquarters about a block away, and some historical conservationists are trying to save the structure as the city is developing a plan to tear it down.
The Cultural Heritage Commission recommended that Parker Center be given historic-cultural status, but the city’s Bureau of Engineering has recommended tearing it down to build a new 750,000-square-foot civic building.
The decision on what to do with Parker Center will now move to the Entertainment and Facilities Committee, which had been holding off on a vote on the development plan until the Planning and Land Use Committee’s vote on the historical monument status.
Even if Parker Center were to have been named a historical monument, the city could still have demolished the building if no viable option for preservation was found.
The Bureau of Engineering’s report also considers alternatives, such as fully rehabilitating the structure or constructing a new 588,000 square-feet civic building around Parker Center while preserving and rehabilitating much of the original building.
However, the report found those alternatives do not help meet the city’s estimated need for 1.1 million new square feet of office space for city workers in the Civic Center area.
Preserving and rehabilitating Parker Center while building around it would cost $621 million, versus $514 million for tearing it down and building a new structure on the site, the report found.
However, the Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit historical preservation group, objects to tearing Parker Center down and also questions the dollar estimates in the report. The conservancy says preserving Parker Center will save the city $50 million.
“We believe that there is a big enough discrepancy of $50 million dollars that the city should take a breath and bring in an independent cost estimator that has some preservation experience and really look at whether there is a possibility of finding a real win-win solution,” Linda Dishman, president and CEO of conservancy, told the Entertainment and Facilities Committee in January.
Parker Center was designed by Welton Becket, who also designed the Capitol Records building, Music Center and Cinerama Dome. It was made nationally famous on the Jack Webb-starring police drama “Dragnet,” as well as other television series and films.
But for many, Parker Center symbolizes the LAPD’s dark past on race relations, starting with its name.
The building was originally known as the Police Facilities Building. In 1969, it was named after former Chief William H. Parker, the chief from 1950 until his death in 1966. Allegations of racial discrimination by police and abuse against the black community are part of Parker’s legacy, which included the 1965 Watts Riots.
After four LAPD officers were acquitted in 1992 of assault in the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King, violent riots broke out across the city and Parker Center was targeted by protesters who set fire to a parking kiosk and threw rocks at the building.
Adrian Scott Fine, the Los Angeles Conservancy’s director of advocacy, told City News Service in January that all history — positive or negative — is worthy of preservation.
“It has a negative history, or a difficult history, but ultimately history is history and you can’t pick and choose or arbitrarily pick and choose which history you prefer to keep versus others that you throw away,” Fine said.
“We’ve always acknowledged that Parker Center does have different meaning and perspectives for different people, and that is part of what is important, is it illustrates just how far Los Angeles has come as a place.”