Parker Center one vote away from demolition

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Preservationist have long fought to save the 1955 Parker Center/Police Facilities Building, designed by Welton Becket and Associates. But elected officials want to get rid of the building, and its tainted history, and replace it with a 27-story tower that will be the heart of a makeover of the Civic Center in downtown LA.

The Parker Center LAPD headquarters in downtown's civic center is a monument to LA's complicated history of race relations with the police.

Yet preservationists have been trying to save it, both for its cultural significance as well as its 1955 design by Welton Becket, that streamlined police functions under one roof, and set the tone for the scientific approach to modern policing.

The city on the other hand has wanted to replace it with a 27-story tower that would consolidate its staff, rather than have them dispersed in different buildings.

The tower would be part of a makeover of several blocks in the Civic Center, bringing in more residential and commercial operations as well as making the urband fabric more attractive to pedestrians.

The Cultural Heritage commission nominated Parker Center for Historic-Cultural Monument designation, and while that slowed the road to demolition, it did not stop it.

The Entertainment and Facilities Committee voted Tuesday to approve the demolition of Parker Center, while preserving historic elements like the bronze exterior sculpture by artist Bernard J. Rosenthal and the mosaic mural by artist Joséph Young on the interior.

They also approved moving forward with Councilmember Huizar's Civic Center Master Plan, which is a larger plan to revitalize and redesign the entire Civic Center area across from City Hall.

Gail Collins, a member of the Cultural Heritage Commission, and an African-American, told DnA last year, "Parker Center is significant for a couple of reasons. Number one, it really was a departure in terms of the concept of a modern police force. The police department in Los Angeles was renowned all over the nation and if not the world.

And then also because of the architecture. Welton Becket was one of the premier architects of his era, he designed the Capitol Records Building and the Music Center. His legacy is important, and I think it's important for us to preserve that.

Additionally, because it's in the center of the Civic Center, the commission has been arguing that it's really important to look at this all in its totality: City Hall, the new police department that was just built, and how all that fits in with the broader master plan of downtown."

Now a new generation of elected officials and planners want to get rid of that "totality" and create a new one that replaces City buildings, the underutilized Mall and plaza space, and redesigns the Civic Center to open up City Hall to the nearby areas of Little Tokyo, the Historic Core, El Pueblo, Chinatown, and the Arts District.

The plan was proposed by Councilmember José Huizar, who represents the Downtown area, and designed by IBI Group.

It calls for at least 1.2 million square feet of new office space, mostly in developments on sites now occupied by the Parker Center and the Los Angeles mall, where a second office tower would be constructed.

It also proposes that the city partner with private companies to redevelop two administrative buildings as a mix of housing, retail, and hotel space.

The goal is to "help activate the area" after city employees go home for the day. They want the Civic Center to capitalize on the regeneration that has rebooted much of the rest of downtown.

The LA Conservancy has argued that the effort to prevent the needless demolition of Parker Center has fallen victim to a "flawed and politicized process, as well as the challenges of preserving places with difficult histories."

They believe the City was never interested in finding a way to save the building and made demolition an inevitablity through "proposing a preservation alternative designed to fail, inflating cost estimates for preservation, and proposing a master plan for the Civic Center that presumes the absence of Parker Center.

This episode marks another step in the dismantling of midcentury Los Angeles planning and restructuring it for a different lifestyle and era.

On Friday the proposed demolition and masterplan are expected to go before the full City Council for approval.