Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility Campus/Historic District | Los Angeles Conservancy
Superintendent's Residence, built in 1920 and currently slated for adaptive reuse. Photo provided by Wikipedia.

Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility Campus/Historic District

In October 2017, the Whittier Conservancy agreed to dismiss pending lawsuits as part of a settlement agreement that guarantees some preservation and Brookfield Residential to contribute $850,000 toward Whittier preservation efforts. This resolution protects four historic buildings on the Nelles complex, including the administration building, superintendent’s and assistant superintendent’s residences and the chapel 

An Alameda County Superior Court judge previously ruled in favor of the Whittier Conservancy, which filed suit against the State of California in 2016 in opposition to the sale of the historic Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility Campus. In June 2015, the Whittier Conservancy sued the state as the latest step in the campaign to protect the historic Nelles Campus. The lawsuit challenged the state’s most recent two-year extension of a 2011 agreement to sell the state-owned facility to developer Brookfield Residential. The Whittier Conservancy contended that neither the latest extension nor the proposed project served the interests of the public and that the latest extension violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Click here to read the full petition >>

Also, in June 2015, the Whittier City Council approved the Lincoln Specific Plan, which calls for the demolition of most of the fifty-two existing buildings on the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility Campus. The 5-0 vote in support followed an offer by the developer to increase its financial support to the City through the project. 

The City of Whittier released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Lincoln Specific Plan in October 2014. The approved mixed-use development project replaces the campus with 750 residential units and over 200,000 square feet of commercial space.  The L.A. Conservancy submitted comments on the Draft EIR on December 1, 2014, and provided testimony on June 23, 2015.

On May 28, 2015, the Whittier Planning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the Draft EIR. The Whittier City Council held the first series of public hearings on the project on June 22, 2015. 

The seventy-six-acre campus, partly bordered by Whittier Boulevard and Sorenson Avenue, is a historic public institution that operated continuously from 1891 to 2004. The entire site is listed in the California Register of Historical Resources and determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. At least eight buildings on the campus were identified as eligible for individual listing in the National Register.

A video produced in 2013 by the current owner, Brookfield Homes, shows early images of the campus throughout its history.  

The Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility Campus operated continuously from 1891 through 2004 as a State-owned juvenile reform school. The facility closed in 2004, and the campus was declared State surplus property.

In 2011, the Conservancy submitted comments to the California State Public Works Board on the sale and disposition of the campus. Our letter expressed concern that the Request for Proposals (RFP) did not provide for any level of meaningful preservation for the majority of existing historic resources on the campus or its overall setting and landscape. The RFP called for the preservation of only two historic buildings, leaving the possibility for six other identified historic resources to be demolished. Beyond the two acknowledged historic structures, the RFP only stated that the campus contained “potential historic resources,” and it did not appear that any postwar campus buildings were properly surveyed and identified as potentially significant.

In December 2014, the Conservancy submitted comments, in partnership with The Whittier Conservancy, on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Lincoln Specific Plan, which seeks to demolish fifty of the fifty-two buildings on the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility Campus. We strongly believe that the DEIR suffers from numerous deficiencies and that a true, bona fide preservation alternative needs to be evaluated where a majority of the historic resources can be preserved, rehabilitated, and successfully adaptively reused as part of the Lincoln Specific Plan. 

Two buildings would be preserved as part of the proposed project initially with the potential to retain two additional structures (preserving and reusing the Chapel’s Building and relocating the Assistant Superintendent’s Residence onsite) through suggested mitigation measures. While we acknowledge and applaud the retention of two additional buildings, a majority of the identified historic resources are razed. This loss also affects some of the most visually dominant examples on the campus, including the historic Gymnasium, Auditorium, and Infirmary buildings.

The project, as approved by the City of Whittier, renders the property unrecognizable from its historic use and setting. Therefore, the site would no longer retain its eligibility as a designated California Historical Landmark on the California Register or for National Register listing. 

We urged the City and project developer to use successful adaptive reuse projects at similar campuses as inspiration for creative conversion. Numerous examples exist in California and nationally that were financially feasible while resulting in meaningful preservation. We encouraged the City to incorporate regulatory and tax incentives as a way to reduce rehabilitation costs.