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

Parker Center/Police Facilities Building

Designed by Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, Parker Center opened in 1955 as the Police Facilities Building.

The eight-story, International Style building, with integrated art and landscaping, was a significant postwar addition to the Los Angeles Civic Center. It features contrasting, rectilinear volumes, most apparent through its rectangular tower of administrative offices set atop a one-story base housing an administrative wing to the south and an auditorium to the north.

Built at a cost of $6,142,548, Parker Center was considered a state-of-the-art crime-fighting facility and one of the first centralized police buildings in the nation. Some special features included a criminology lab, a lineup auditorium with specialized lighting, a traffic map room, and a communications center.

The two-story jail portion of the building also extends north from the tower. Horizontal bands of windows alternating with mosaic tiles dominate the north and south elevations of the tower, which features windowless west (main) and east elevations clad in ceramic veneer panels. Twelve delicate pilotis (isolated columns) clad in blue mosaic tile support the mass of the tower extending over the main entrance plaza at Los Angeles Street. The building’s original design remains highly intact.

Parker Center includes two integrated, site-specific art pieces as part of the original design: the bronze sculpture “The Family Group” by artist Bernard J. Rosenthal on the building’s exterior and the expansive mosaic “Theme Mural of Los Angeles” by artist Joseph Young on the interior; both are original to the building. The “Theme Mural of Los Angeles” depicts a stylized composition of images representing the Los Angeles cityscape, including such iconic landmarks as Los Angeles City Hall, Griffith Observatory, and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Panel Discussion

On March 22, 2015, the Conservancy held a panel discussion about the many layers of history of downtown's Parker Center. Thanks to Steven Smith for serving as videographer/editor for the event. Watch part 1 and part 2 on Vimeo.

 

The history of Parker Center is rich and complex. Originally known as the Police Facilities Building, the building was posthumously named for Chief William H. Parker in 1966, who served as Chief of Police at the Los Angeles Police Department from 1950 to 1966. Parker was one of the most distinguished—and controversial—police chiefs in Los Angeles history.

While Chief Parker’s legacy has been controversial particularly in African-American and Latino communities, he is associated with reducing corruption in the police department and developing administrative concepts that have since become standard procedures.

Parker Center became a symbol of the police department in Los Angeles, notably for its guest starring role and backdrop to the popular television show Dragnet. The show is considered one of the most famous and influential police procedual dramas, made so in part by its leading character Sergeant Joe Friday and his stoic, matter-of-fact approach to police work. Parker Center opened during the television series, which initially ran from 1952-59 and was revived for a second run between 1967-70. The series was created and produced by Jack Webb, who also starred as Sergeant Joe Friday.

The building has also been associated with some of the city's most challenging and significant historical events, with Vietnam War era marches in front of the building, crowds gathering there following the Los Angeles riots of April 1992, and again in October 2000 with a coalition of 1,000 protesters as part of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.

 

 

Parker Center is highly significant for architectural, historical, and cultural reasons.

Architecture

Designed by Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, Parker Center was a significant postwar addition to the Los Angeles Civic Center. Welton Becket and Associates was one of L.A.'s most influential and prominent architecture firms, responsible for iconic landmarks including the Capitol Records Tower, the Music Center of Los Angeles County, and the Cinerama Dome

Parker Center's innovative design integrated virtually all departments into a single facility, earning the building critical acclaim as a model for modernizing the police force. Parker Center influenced the design of other central police buildings that followed nationwide. 

"Ultramodern is all respects, the new eight-floor Los Angeles Police Building makes available to the city's police department the most scientific building ever used by a law-enforcement group." Popular Mechanics, July 1956

Recognition

Parker Center has been identified as individually eligible for the California Register of Historic Resources and as a contributor to a National Register-eligible historic district of the Los Angeles Civic Center. 

In 2004, the building was identified as a historic resource eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources, as part of the Proposed Public Safety Facilities Master Plan project.

In 2010, it was identified as a historic resource eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Resources, as part of the Regional Connector Transit Corridor project. The California State Office of Historic Preservation concurred with this assessment.

The Conservancy's Modern Committee featured the building in the booklet for its 2003 tour Built by Becket, which showcased notable designs of Welton Becket throughout Los Angeles County (see PDF of tour brochure). The Conservancy showcased the remarkable lobby mural by Joseph Young on our 2007 tour, Mosaic L.A.

 

Long Beach City Hall. Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Long Beach Civic Center

Designed by a consortium of local architects, the Long Beach Civic Center is an excellent example of Late Modern architecture and civic planning.