Lincoln Heights Jail | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Laura Dominguez/L.A. Conservancy

Lincoln Heights Jail

Built in 1927 at a cost of $5 million, the Lincoln Heights Jail officially opened in 1931.

The five-story, Art Deco-style jail was designed to accommodate 625 prisoners at full capacity. By the early 1950s, the jail was known to hold up to 2,800 prisoners. As a result of overcrowding, the City of Los Angeles approved an expansion in 1951.

Some of the notable individuals held at the Lincoln Heights Jail included Al Capone and people arrested during the Zoot Suit Riots and Watts Riots.

The prison was also known for the high volume of inmates who had been arrested over suspicions regarding their sexual orientation, leading to the creation of a separate wing for gay prisoners.

The jail was decommissioned in 1965, when the Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors determined that it would be more cost effective to close the prison and place inmates in the nearby county jail.

Since the jail's closing, many new uses have been proposed for the building, including a state prison, trade technical high school, mixed-use space, and a 24,000-square-foot urban rooftop garden.

From 1979 to 2014, the building housed the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts. It has also been used as a filming location and for sports tournaments.

On March 31, 2016, the City of Los Angeles issued a Request for Interest for those considering reusing and repurposing the Lincoln Heights Jail. Responses are due on May 13.  

From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, the City of Los Angeles implemented a campaign to crack down on all forms of LGBTQ activity, particularly under the tenure of Chief William Parker.

1947 marked the first year that the sex offender registry was in place, forcing those convicted of crimes of a sexual nature to register. Anti-sodomy laws had been in effect in California since 1850, and oral sex became a felony in 1915.

At the same time, other behaviors such as "impersonation" and "masquerading" (i.e. wearing clothing deemed appropriate only for the opposite sex) were also seen as probable cause for police harassment and arrest. 

During this time, it was not uncommon for vice officers to entrap and arrest individuals in popular cruising locations such as bars, parks, and public bathrooms for soliciting non-heterosexual sex and prostitution.

At the height of these practices, the Lincoln Heights Jail became so frequently populated with individuals being held for sex-related crimes that the prison opened a separate wing for inmates suspected of being gay. The wing was given the derogatory nickname of "The Fruit Tank."

Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

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