August 25, 2018

Photo Essay: LAPD's Parker Center, Upon Its Imminent Demolition (Updated)

[Last updated 6/14/20 11:33 AM PT—info on completed demolition added]

I guess I'm fortunate enough to have not ever had any legal reason to visit the inside of Parker Center before its closure in 2013.

The Police Administration Building/Police Facilities Building, designed by Welton Beckett in the International Style, has come to symbolize the civil unrest and police abuse of minorities in Los Angeles...

...which came to a head during the Watts Rebellion of 1965, the East LA Walkouts in 1966 (for unfair treatment of Chicano students in the LA Unified School District), and the LA Riots in 1992 (in response to the "Not Guilty" verdict of the Rodney King/LAPD beatings).

No civilian ever wanted to go past any of Parker Center's 12 blue, tiled isolated columns and into the eight-story, reinforced concrete structure on official business.

But the post-war facility has probably attracted more than a few looky-loos who've identified its exterior from episodes of DragnetPerry Mason, or Columbo. And when it first opened in 1955, it sparked such interest among the public that the LAPD had to hire a full-time police officer just to give daily tours of the facility.

circa 2008 (Photo: jericl cat via Flickr, CC By 2.0)

I do wish I'd seen the Joseph Young mosaic mural, "Architectural History of Los Angeles" (a.k.a. "Theme Mural of Los Angeles") up close and in person, not just from pressing my face against the glass front doors last summer, when everything was locked up and the building had been denied status as a Historic-Cultural Landmark.

circa 2008 (Photo: jericl cat via FlickrCC By 2.0)

And now, with demolition seeming imminent (save some last minute Hail Mary), that 36-foot-long, six-foot-wide mosaic of 250,000 pieces in 50 different colors has been relocated from the reverse side of a pay telephone bank to off-site storage.

Some people would gladly see Parker Center bulldozed.

Its construction, which necessitated the eviction of a commercial district of Little Tokyo by eminent domain less than a decade after the Japanese internment camps of WWII, left a bitter taste in more than just the Japanese-Angeleno community.

And besides rioting and protests, Parker Center's ugly history includes its role in the OJ Simpson interrogations and its namesake, notorious hard-ass police chief William Parker. Though Chief Parker worked to abolish other forms of corruption within the force, if he didn't order it directly, he was at least complicit with the racist behavior of the officers under his charge.

Those who wish to preserve Parker Center—despite its gnarly associations—cite its exemplary Southern California Modernism style, it's towering presence in the open air, its influence over the civic center plaza layouts that would subsequently follow suit, and its public art.

In addition to the bronze sculpture on Parker Center's front facade and the lobby mosaic mural, there's also Sook Jin Jo's adjacent sculpture from 2009, "Wishing Bells / To Protect and To Serve."

The Korean-born artist has contributed pretty much the only reference to Japanese culture at the Parker Center plaza, with her tribute to the Japanese Buddhist tradition of ringing bells to dispel the desires that cause human suffering.

In this case, 108 bells and ribbons—featuring words contributed by the community—hang suspended from a central trellis, which is supported by nine cedar columns.

Technically, the sculpture is part of the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center next door and not Parker Center, though the line of demarcation between the two isn't clear. Hopefully, this nod to the lost section of Little Tokyo will remain, despite what the wrecking ball does to Parker Center.

The plan right now is to replace the former police headquarters—which is considered outdated, reportedly having reached the "end of its service period" in the 1990s, though it was once so ultra-modern that Popular Mechanics called it "the most scientific building ever used by a law enforcement group."

In its place? A spanking new, exorbitantly priced office tower—a proposal that stings, particularly in a time when we've got homeless encampments a stone's throw away and more people in need of housing than we know what to do with.

Unfortunately, the arguments of whether to save or destroy Parker Center—and the resulting decision—have been emotional rather than pragmatic. 

And all that the Los Angeles Conservancy says it can hope for now is a delay of the destruction of the historic structure until the plans for the new building are approved—so as not to leave us with a gaping hole in the landscape. [Update: Demolition was completed July 2019 and we now have a gaping hole in the landscape.]

For more perspective on this issue, read "Should We Preserve Places We Would Rather Forget?" by Jonathan Haeber here.

And here's that Popular Mechanics article from 1956 in full:

Popular Mechanics, July 1956 via Google Books

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: LA's Oldest Standing Police Station
Photo Essay: The Triforium, A Disco Spaceship Gone Dark
Photo Essay: City Hall at Sunset (Updated for 2017)
Photo Essay: Lincoln Heights Jail, Closed to Public (Updated for 2017)

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