West Los Angeles Civic Center | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Erik Van Breene / L.A. Conservancy

West Los Angeles Civic Center

UPDATE: On July 1, 2022, the Conservancy submitted comments on the County of Los Angeles's  West L.A. Commons Project Notice of Preparation (NOP) as the first step in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process. In our comments, we voiced our concerns and advocated for a more preservation-minded project that meets all the goals and objectives as set forth in the Project's Request for Proposals (RFP). The next public comment period will come when the Draft Environmental Impact Report is released (date TBD).

On Wednesday, May 11, at 7 pm the West LA Neighborhood Council hosted a second Town Hall to discuss the West LA Commons Project. The meeting was held both virtually and in-person with about 80 participants joining. The meeting consisted of a design charrette where a preliminary site plan was presented and groups discussed what they'd like to see incorporated. No time was given to formal public comments and the neighborhood council is still accepting written comments. 

Think you know what’s up with the proposed redevelopment of the West L.A. Civic Center? The November 9, 2021 community meeting (sponsored by County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, City Councilmember Mike Bonin, and the development team of AvalonBay and Abode Communities) shed some light and details on the West L.A. Commons project but few on preservation, much like the project itself. Here’s the scoop: as planned the 1960 Courts Building, 1961 branch City Hall/Municipal Building, 1962 Community Center (Felicia Mahood Senior Center), and 1965 Bandshell are to be demolished. Only the 1956 library will stay (for now) and is not a part of this project scope. This means an eligible historic district marking an important part of West L.A.’s growth will be erased.

Two facades of the branch City Hall were planned to be kept (which is not preservation) yet that is now being reconsidered, citing soil conditions. The same goes for the now-doomed Googie style Amphitheatre, despite being marked for preservation in the proposal that was selected by the City and County.

As a public-private venture between the City, County and the developer (AvalonBay and Abode Communities), preservation was supposed to be a priority, at least it was in the official Request for Proposals (RFP) process, stated as one of ten key aspects to be addressed.

What is happening here? Preservation through adaptive reuse is readily achievable in this project and can complement the proposed new mixed-income housing. New buildings of the same footprint are to replace the branch City Hall and Courthouse. The existing Amphitheatre can be repurposed and kept.

It is easier to demolish everything and build subterranean parking over the entire site than build around the historic buildings. Yet easy does not equal better. Until someone in leadership steps forward and presses for an alternative that successfully marries the old with the new, this development team will continue to seek the easy way out. As a familiar pattern that keeps repeating itself across this city, L.A. can do and deserves better. 


On May 15, 2020, the County of Los Angeles released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the West Los Angeles Civic Center. This RFP follows a Los Angeles City Council vote on April 29 to enter a joint development agreement with the County for the redevelopment of the entire West L.A. Civic Center site rather than a selected County-owned portion as originally proposed. 

In January 2021, the County and City selected Abode Communities and AvalonBay Communities to redevelop the site. Initial renderings have been released but no plans are certified at this time. The project will need to go through Environmental Review prior to project approvals.

The current RFP sets three primary project objectives:

  1. Repurposing adjacent but segregated properties that currently contain underutilized buildings and public spaces;
  2. Offering a singular economically viable building site capable of being developed to meet current community needs; and
  3. Providing a prime, transit-oriented location for much-needed affordable housing.

The RFP further outlines ten key points and aspects it is seeking, including:

"Historic Preservation and Enhancement: Approaches any potential demolition or exterior alterations (to the extent included as part of a proposal) in a manner consistent with an appropriate historical analysis (e.g., in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties) and locates the majority of new construction within underutilized areas such as surface parking lots, embodies architectural styles that respect the history of the Project Site without being exclusively referential, and elevates the architectural experience of the Project Site for the broader community."

Image: September 7, 1961 dedication of the West Los Angeles City Hall/Municipal Building, Los Angeles Times.

 SurveyLA first identified the Civic Center as a potential historic district in 2012 for its architecture and role in expanded government services after World War II. The district is made up of four contributing buildings and a bandstand, all designed in the Mid-Century Modern style, and organized around a central plaza.

The County contracted with Sapphos Environmental, Inc. to perform a due diligence review of historic resources. In their report, the consultant recommends applicants consider hiring a historic consultant to maintain the historic district while achieving project goals that include affordable housing and municipal office space among others. 

The County released an initial RFP in November 2019. In this iteration, the County focussed only on the West L.A. Courts Building, which it plans to purchase from the State of California for approximately $35 million. 

Upon reading the previous RFP, the Conservancy found that the County had not adequately addressed adverse impacts to historic resources failing to list adaptive reuse as a project alternative. Following outreach by the Conservancy, the County released an addendum to the RFP addressing potential historic resources.

After a month into its release, the county suspended the previous RFP to pursue the joint redevelopment project detailed above.

The West Los Angeles Civic Center is an excellent and intact example of a Mid-Century Modern style branch administrative center. The civic center complex is a significant representation of expanded government services following World War II.

The City and County of Los Angeles jointly developed the Civic Center between 1956 and 1964. Planning for the Civic Center began in 1956 as the need to decentralize city and county services increased with the region's post-WWII population boom. In 1949, the City released its Master Plan of Branch Administrative Centers. The Master Plan proposed twelve new branch administrative centers throughout the City. Between 1957 and 1964, the public library branch, municipal building, and courts building were constructed.

Despite being incomplete, the Civic Center opened in 1961, exemplifying the Mid-Century Modern design aesthetic.

Today, the Civic Center continues its government functions as envisioned. However, in the 1990s, the Civic Center became a prominent location for the progression of skateboarding. During this period, skateboarders from across the world traveled to the Civic Center after it was featured heavily in skateboarding films.  

The West Los Angeles Civic Center Historic District is made up of four contributing buildings and one structure as listed below:

  1. The Courts Building (1960)
  2. The West L.A. branch City Hall/Municipal Building (1961)
  3. Felicia Mahood Senior Center (1962)
  4. LAPL West L.A. Regional Branch Library (1956)
  5. The Bandshell (1965)

 

The Los Angeles Conservancy believes that the West Los Angeles Civic Center is an excellent and intact example of a Mid-Century Modern branch civic center. By combining adaptive reuse and sensitive infill construction, the City and County of Los Angeles can meet their project objectives while maintaining the historic built environment. 

FIRST: To help save the West L.A. Civic Center voice your concern to City Councilmember Mike Bonin (councilmember.bonin@lacity.org) and County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl (sheila@bos.lacounty.gov).

SECOND: Submit written comments to the West L.A. Neighborhood Council at chair@westlasawtelle.org

THIRD: Submit written public comments for the Project's forthcoming Draft Environmental Impact Report (release date TBD). This will be the second opportunity for public comment on the project as mandated under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The next public. For more information on CEQA visit the conservancy's Guide To Using CEQA.

Help us advocate for a win-win outcome where preservation is paired with sensitively designed new development!