James K. Hill & Sons Pickle Works Building | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

James K. Hill & Sons Pickle Works Building

On the evening of Friday, November 9, the historic Pickle Works Building caught fire. The building was ultimately declared a total loss and demolished. More about the fire reported by Curbed LA.

A new plan threatens what remains of the historic James K. Hill & Sons Pickle Works Building (also known as Citizens Warehouse) in the Arts District. Metro’s Division 20 project calls for an expansion of the existing railyard along the river and immediately north of the building. The Conservancy submitted comments on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in April 2018 and subsequently met with representatives from Metro and their project team to discuss the Division 20 project in further detail.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) states that physical constraints due to track geometry and location necessitate the demolition of most of the Pickle Works Building to make way for a track storage yard, yet it provides no further details on why preservation alternatives are not possible. No preservation alternatives that could retain more or all of the Pickle Works Building were included in the Draft EIR.

If realized, the forty-five-acre railyard will facilitate greater service and provide a turnaround point for the Purple Line’s extension (currently in progress). Metro says the project requires land currently occupied by the Pickle Works Building. They propose to demolish part of the building at the rear, leaving only the front façade and a portion of the original building still standing. We are currently working with Metro to press for alternatives and a long-term preservation solution for the building.

The 1888-1909 James K. Hill & Sons Pickle Works Building has an interesting, layered history, which includes years of uncertainty about its future. Located along Center Street in the Arts District, the building is one of the few Victorian-era brick industrial buildings left standing in the city.

In addition to its industrial roots, the Pickle Works Building is significant for its association with the 1970s and ’80s emergence of the Arts District, when artists took up space in abandoned industrial buildings. Then known as Citizens Warehouse, the building also featured “Art Dock,” an innovative drive-up art gallery.

It is a rare and important historic resource that has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pickle Works Building sits next to the 1929 First Street Viaduct, and it was purchased by the City via the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) years ago to facilitate expansion of the viaduct to accommodate light rail. Under an agreement with Caltrans, the City removed a portion of the south end of the building in 2012 for the viaduct expansion.

An agreement made in 2005 allowed the City to remove either 30 or 50 feet of the building and calls for the City to rebuild the south wall “in a manner consistent with the design of the remaining elements of the building.” A recent structural engineering report commissioned by the City states that this is feasible and provides recommendations for implementation. Yet they demolished more of the building than allowed per the agreement. For more than five years, the Pickle Works Building has been left in limbo and without a finished end wall.

Because the First Street Viaduct expansion used federal funds, and both the Viaduct and Pickle Works Building are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, a Section 106 process was required to consider alternatives and possible mitigation. Through this process, the expansion project was determined to have an unavoidable adverse effect on the Pickle Works Building as well as the First Street Viaduct.

This determination required a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) documenting agreed-upon measures that the City will take to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the project’s adverse effects. To minimize adverse effects, the City was responsible for securing the Pickle Works Building following its partial demolition and constructing a new south end wall.

Contrary to a longstanding agreement, the BOE subsequently removed 75 feet—nearly thirty percent of the building—for reasons that are unclear. Perhaps this decision was prompted by a desire for a larger staging area; perhaps it was to ensure structural stability by severing the building in a structurally sound location.

The Conservancy is not opposed to Metro’s infrastructure upgrades, which seek to accommodate the expansion and associated increased ridership of the Metro Red and Purple Lines. Yet we object to the needless demolition of a historic building if preservation alternatives might exist.

We are asking Metro to provide further details and analysis of the flexibility that may exist with alternative track layouts. Metro and the City of Los Angeles (who currently owns the Pickle Works Building) need to develop a clear plan for the stabilization, rehabilitation, and reuse of the long-vacant building.

The Conservancy wants to achieve a win-win solution, one that keeps and reuses the Pickle Works Building. Metro needs to hear from community members who feel the same way.

Submit comments on the DEIR

The DEIR for the Division 20 Portal Widening and Turnback Facility project is available for a 45-day public review period, from March 16 - April 30, 2018. During this period, you may submit comments on the DEIR. Please submit comments by Monday, April 30, urging Metro to retain the historic Pickle Works Building and identify a plan for its rehabilitation and use.

Please email your comments to libane@metro.net and copy Councilmember José Huizar: councilmember.huizar@lacity.org.

Also, please copy the Conservancy at mvavala@laconservancy.org so we can track progress.

Include "Division 20 Portal Widening & Turnback Facility Project Draft EIR" in the subject line.

Points you may mention include:

  • Every effort should be made to retain the California Register-listed Pickle Works Building as part of the proposed project.
  • Metro has not clearly demonstrated how retaining the existing Pickle Works Building would prevent the operation of storage track facilities at the Division 20 Rail Yard.
  • Metro must evaluate whether a preservation alternative and potential win-win outcome could retain the Pickle Works Building while still allowing adequate space for storage tracks.
  • It is critical that Metro and the City of Los Angeles commit to a long-term preservation plan for the use and treatment of the Pickle Works Building as part of the approval process and certification of the proposed project.

Learn more about the Division 20 project on Metro's website >>