Parker Center/Police Facilities Building | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Hunter Kerhart

Parker Center/Police Facilities Building

On March 24, 2017 the Los Angeles City Council voted in support of a plan to build a new, 27-story tower for City employees at the current site of Parker Center. This vote paves the way for the destruction of the Modernist former police headquarters built in 1955.

The Conservancy is deeply disappointed in this action, as we have worked for more than five years to prevent the needless demolition of Parker Center. We strongly believe reuse and rehabilitation of the building are fully capable of meeting the City’s intended goals, and is the more cost-effective approach that can save millions in taxpayer dollars.

Despite being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Parker Center has fallen victim to a flawed and highly politicized process. This outcome further illustrates the challenges of preserving places with difficult histories.

We hope the City will not raze Parker Center until their intended replacement project is ready to proceed and fully financed so as not to unnecessarily demolish a historic building and leave the city with a vacant lot.

Issue Overview

On February 7, 2017, the Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee voted unanimously against recommending the Historic-Cultural Monument designation of Parker Center.

While separate from the redevelopment project, the HCM designation would have protected Parker Center from imminent demolition, as well as from pre-emptive demolition if the redevelopment project doesn't move forward.

Regarding the proposed redevelopment project, on January 26 the City Planning Commission (CPC) discussed the project as well as the proposed Civic Center Master Plan, expressing concern over the public and internal City processes for these two separate yet connected efforts.

Commission President David Ambroz expressed frustration over the City Administrative Officer (CAO) potentially usurping the City Planning Commission's authority over land use planning in the city. Other members expressed concern over the historic preservation community being effectively shut out of the process, explicitly referencing the Conservancy and the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission.

The Commission passed a motion requesting that both the Parker Center project and the Civic Center Master Plan come back to the CPC at a future date for review.

The effort to prevent the needless demolition of Parker Center is as entangled as the history of the building itself. Despite the building's clear and widely acknowledged significance, it has fallen victim to a flawed and politicized process, as well as the challenges of preserving places with difficult histories.

Designed by Welton Becket and Associates, the 1955 former LAPD headquarters has been threatened with demolition for years. The process has taken many twists and turns along the way. Yet from the beginning, the City departments in charge of determining Parker Center's fate have acted consistently to bring about its demolition.

Examples include 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. 

The Conservancy has worked for years to prevent Parker Center's demolition, including:

  • Commenting whenever possible during the public environmental review process
  • Working behind the scenes to seek common ground with various stakeholders
  • Holding an expert panel discussion exploring Parker Center's difficult history
  • Countering misinformation from the City
  • Mobilizing residents to support both Parker Center and a transparent public process for land-use decisions

To learn more about this issue, see the other tabs, documents, and news highlights on this page.

To learn more about Parker Center, see our companion location page on Parker Center's history and significance.

Parker Center was previously threatened with demolition for a new police facilities building in the early 2000s before an alternate site was found. Since then, the building’s historic and architectural significance has been more firmly established and its mid-century modern architecture recognized.

The former LAPD headquarters in downtown's Civic Center has stood mostly vacant since the LAPD moved to its new headquarters in 2009. The public process for deciding what to do with it did not begin until 2012, when the City’s Bureau of Engineering (BOE) released an initial study of ways to provide office space for nearly 5,500 City staff near City Hall. In that study, and ever since, the BOE has advocated for Parker Center's demolition.

In early September 2013, the City of Los Angeles released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for a project called the "Los Angeles Street Civic Building Project." At that time, the DEIR evaluated three options for the Parker Center property: 1) rehabilitation of the 1955 building; 2) partial demolition, rehabilitation and addition to the building; and 3) full demolition and construction of a new building. 

Under all three options, the City's stated project goals are to house city staff at this central location (those currently located elsewhere throughout the city), address the need for approximately 1.1 million square feet of office space, and provide greater connectivity and services to adjacent Little Tokyo. The City states that 3,865 employees are currently off-site and a project objective is to locate City staff closer to City Hall. All three options studied to date fail to fully meet these desired goals.

In June 2014, through the release of the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), the BOE announced its preference for the third option, B3, calling for the complete demolition of Parker Center and building in its place one or two towers that will be up to 27-stories and 450-feet in height. At an estimated cost of $475 million, this project will provide a net of 588,240 square feet and will house 2,945 employees.

B2, the second option provided by the City -- and what the Conservancy suggests has the best opportunity for a "win-win" outcome -- retains and rehabilitates the main portion of Parker Center. It calls for the addition of an 11-story building to the rear and 200-feet in height (see gallery below for a schematic design). At an estimated cost of $325 million, this option will provide a net of 354,499 square feet and will house 1,775 employees. 

It is unclear why alternative B2’s tower structure has been arbitrarily capped at 200 feet and eleven stories (in comparison to B3's plan to build up to 27-stories and 450-feet in height). It stands to reason that additional height and density can be achieved through this preservation option with modification to provide a greater amount of overall square footage, thus housing even more of the desired employees at a central location. The Conservancy raised this issue in our comments on the DEIR yet no response has been provided to date.  

Panel Discussion

On March 22, 2015 the Conservancy held a panel discussion about the many layers of history of downtown's Parker Center. In case you missed it, watch the videos of the event below. Thank you to Steven Smith for serving as videographer/editor for the event.

Part 1:

0:00 - Intro by Linda Dishman  
3:25 - Context by Adrian Scott Fine      
12:50 - Cecily Young on her father, artist Joseph Young 
18:00 - Panel discussion

Part 2:

Panel discussion continued

 

 

Parker Center is an important historic place in Downtown Los Angeles, individually and as a part of the Civic Center Historic District, a key component to the 1947 Civic Center Master Plan. The Conservancy spoke in favor of the Cultural Heritage Commission's Historic-Cultural Monument nomination at hearings in November 2014, January 2015, and May 2015.

Preservation is More Cost Effective than Demolition and New Construction

Based on a convening on January 6 by the Conservancy of a panel of preservation experts (comprised of highly experienced developers, architects, cost estimator, and seismic engineer), we strongly believe the reuse of Parker Center can actually result in a savings of nearly $50 million. This directly contradicts claims made by the City stating preservation will be $107 million more (as part of a preservation alternative known as "B4") than new construction. 

The building and what it represents is significant for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Parker Center was designed by the renowned architectural firm of Welton Becket & Associates. The Welton Becket & Associates firm went on to design many of L.A.'s iconic landmarks, including Capitol Records Tower, the Music Center of Los Angeles County, and the Cinerama Dome
  • When opened in 1955, Parker Center was considered one of the most modern and advanced centralized police headquarters facilities in the nation, noteworthy for its crime-fighting technological capabilities. It was critically acclaimed as a model for modernizing the Los Angeles police force, as was the state-of-the-art crime labs and communication center.
  • Parker Center is the backdrop to many important and often controversial stories in L.A.’s mid-20 century era, from early urban renewal and its impact on Little Tokyo and the Japanese-American community, to the turbulent evolution of the city’s modern-day police force. Parker Center helps impart these stories of a different time and place, and helps us remember our past. Parker Center and its associations can stir strong and mixed feelings about preservation. History and the events that take place are not always positive. Saving places that come with lots of baggage and stigma can be complicated, but they are as much a part of our collective history and remind us of where we’ve been as the sites we choose to celebrate. 

Of the three original alternatives considered by the City (as part of the environmental review process), only alternatives B1(rehabilitation) and B2 (rehabilitation, partial demolition and new addition) have the greatest potential for complying with the Standards and avoiding adverse impacts, while maintaining Parker Center as an eligible historic resource. Alternative B3 -- the preferred project -- calls for the complete demolition and redevelopment of the Parker Center site.

A fourth alternative known as Alternative B4 was studied outside of the environmental review process, and calls for a larger addition to Parker Center. We strongly believe cost estimates are severely inflated by the City, whereas an independednt review by a panel of preservation experts instead concludes there is a savings of nearly $50 million. This directly contradicts claims made by the City stating preservation will be $107 million more for Alternative B4.  

The rehabilitation and reuse of Parker Center can be achieved while meeting the City’s objectives to house city departments and employees in a more centralized location near City Hall. There is a clear “win-win” opportunity with Alternative B2 that retains the main part of Parker Center while marrying and expanding it with new construction. This option does the following:

  • Repurposes and reinvests in an existing historic resource, meeting fire-life safety and seismic safety objectives, as well as complying with the City Green Building Code – resulting in a more sustainable outcome over the proposed new construction.
  • Allows for at least 1,775 employees to be housed in an historic building with modern, 21st century investments. The Conservancy believes even more employees can be accommodated if the City studies a modified alternative, instead of arbitrarily choosing to limit  the scale of the new construction to 11-stories and 200 feet in height (as opposed to the City’s preferred project which allows for up to 27-stories and 45- feet in height).
  • Saves the City $211 million by putting its limited economic resources in a building that is capable of being upgraded and brought up to modern-day standards in a way that honors the past without needlessly throwing it and taxpayer dollars away.