Exploring the noir halls of LA County’s Hall of Justice

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The Hall of justice

For most of the 20th Century, one building was synonymous with crime and punishment in  Los Angeles County, downtown L.A.’s Hall of Justice. The building, which opened in 1925, was where both the county’s D.A. and sheriff had their offices. The mammoth building saw some of Southern California’s most infamous criminals held and put on trial, from 1930’s era gangsters and gunmen to more modern serial killers. Because the basement of the building is where L.A. County’s morgue and coroner’s office were located, the Hall of Justice is also where generations of Angelenos ended up after they died, including Marilyn Monroe and Robert F. Kennedy.

But for two decades, the Hall of Justice, just across the street from L.A.’s City Hall, has sat empty and shuttered, a casualty of a natural disaster that struck Southern California in 1994. But the building is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation project and will soon reopen.

Below KCRW gets a tour of the building, learning more about its colorful past and future.

The Hall of Justice, built in 1925, is the oldest building in downtown L.A.’s Civic Center, that includes City Hall. The building’s exterior is made from Sierra granite mined near Fresno. The design was inspired by the Mausoleum of Helicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)
The Hall of Justice, damaged and closed since the Northridge earthquake of 1994, is getting a $234 million dollar renovation, which includes seismic strengthening. This is the building’s barrel-vaulted entrance foyer, which runs an entire city block through the building. It’s an extravaganza of marble walls, Ionic columns  and a gilt-edged, coffered cieling. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)
Besides offices and courtrooms, the Hall of Justice also had jail cells on its top floors. Most of them have been permanently removed as part of the renovation work, but the one you see in the photo is being kept. It’s the cell block where cult leader Charles Manson was held while he was on trial for directing his followers to commit a series of grisly murders in Los Angeles in the 1960s. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)
When possible, workers are trying to use original material in the building’s restoration, like the wood in this one time jury deliberation room that’s being turned into a conference space. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)
Even before the Hall of Justice was closed, the building was showing its age. Decades of pollution from the nearby freeway had blanketed the building in a sooty film. As part of the renovation, that soot and grime has been cleaned off.
(Photo by Saul Gonzlaez)
Robert Mitchum
This being L.A., the Hall of Justice had its share of celebrity visitors, like actor Robert Mitchum who was arrested and served jail time for marijuana possession. His punishment was documented by paparazzi. (Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library)