Long Beach Civic Center | Los Angeles Conservancy
Long Beach Courthouse. Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Long Beach Civic Center

In December 2015, the City of Long Beach approved the Long Beach Civic Center Project, paving the way for the demolition of its Corporate International Style Courthouse and Late Modern City Hall and Main Library. 

In August 2015, the City published the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for the Civic Center Project, which proposed demolition of all existing buildings on the project site and construction of a new City Hall, Port Building, Main Library, a redeveloped Lincoln Park, a residential development, and a commercial mixed-use development. The Final SEIR was released in October 2015. 

The Long Beach Courthouse, City Hall, and Main Library buildings had all been determined eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources and as local landmarks. 

The Conservancy submitted comments on the Draft SEIR in September 2015, having previously raised concerns over the environmental review process for the proposed demolition of the Courthouse. While we appreciate that the City took steps to examine the Civic Center as a whole, we are deeply troubled that no bona fide preservation alternatives were studied in the Draft SEIR. 

Demolition of the former Courthouse began in March 2016. A timeline for the demolition of City Hall and the Main Library has not yet been announced. 

The Long Beach Courthouse closed its doors in late 2013, having functioned as a Municipal and Superior Court since 1960. Although it has suffered from deferred maintenance and requires seismic retrofitting, the modern building remained an excellent example of Corporate International Style architecture and retained most of its character-defining features. 

The City of Long Beach issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in February 2013 for the redevelopment of the Long Beach Civic Center, including the site of the Kenneth S. Wing and Francis J. Heusel-designed Courthouse. While no specific reuse or redevelopment project had been identified, the City subsequently released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in October 2014 for a demolition-only project focused on the Courthouse. 

This narrowly defined, demolition-only project circumvented the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by segmenting the environmental review process, otherwise known as "project splitting." 

Facing pushback from stakeholders, including the Conservancy, the City restarted its environmental review process for the redevelopment of the Civic Center as a whole. The most recent project proposed the demolition of the Courthouse, City Hall, and Main Library and the construction of new civic buildings with mixed-use development. 

The Conservancy believes that the final analysis for the proposed Civic Center Project contained significant flaws with respect to cultural resources and that it failed to adequately evaluate a range of meaningful preservation alternatives. The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) only offered partial-preservation alternatives, which represents a clear violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

In our comment letter, we raised a number of questions about the Draft SEIR's methodology for evaluating historic resources, including its study of a potential Civic Center historic district. We also highlighted a lack of evidence, including detailed cost analyses and assessments of existing building conditions, to support the City's argument that rehabilitation is infeasible. 

We believe that there were viable opportunities to retain and adaptively reuse the historic Courthouse, City Hall, and Main Library buildings as part of the proposed redevelopment of the site. The project's narrowly defined objectives limited a full consideration of preservation outcomes and revealed the City's pre-commitment to demolition as opposed to rehabilitation and reuse.