Downtown's lovely Hall of Justice has been shuttered since the devastating 1994 Northridge quake rumbled through the Los Angeles area, damaging it beyond easy repair. The 1925 Beaux-Arts building, designed by a superteam called Allied Architects, is the oldest extant government building in the Civic Center and, until recently, it looked it. But now the boards are off the windows, the granite exterior is newly pristine, and there's a new plaza on Spring Street—a $231-million restoration and renovation has brought this important piece of LA's history into the present and will take it on to the future.
The damage done by Northridge was considerable enough to get the Hall of Justice red-tagged, so it's surprising that throughout the renovated structure, architecture firm AC Martin (which worked with Clark Construction) was able to reuse so many original materials. In one instance, the marble—and even the glass—around the doors of elevator bays was removed years ago, cataloged, cleaned and repaired, and then put right back into the spots from which they were removed. The elevator carriages themselves are the originals, LA County Department of Public Works assistant deputy Jim Kearns says, which explains why a government building has such beautiful dark wood and elaborate detailing in its conveyances. (Don't worry: the elevator systems are brand new.)
In other sections of the building, light fixtures, marble flooring, wood door frames, and transom windows have all been salvaged, fixed, and used again, making many parts of the interior look a lot like an old movie that's been colorized. The restoration work had people up on scaffolds, hand-painting coffered ceilings or cleaning ornaments over entryways with toothbrushes, all in the interest of getting it right. Not everything was worth saving, though: lighting, electrical, heating and cooling systems have all been upgraded, though the radiator grates in some of the old courtrooms have been saved and used decoratively.
The top four floors of the Hall of Justice were once cell blocks, housing infamous "guests" such as gangster Bugsy Siegel, RFK assassin/Pasadenan Sirhan Sirhan, and cult leader Charles Manson. Unfortunately, heavy jail cells on those top floors contributed to the building's weight in a big way, making it more vulnerable to seismic events. As part of the building's makeover, the cells (along with similarly weighty hollow clay tiles in the walls) were taken out. The changes lowered the building's center of gravity, making it significantly safer in the event of another quake. (One cell block has been moved into the basement and will eventually become an interpretive center.)
The building is lighter in more ways than that. Without the cell blocks, the ceilings were claustrophobically low, so the top four floors have become just two floors, which will soon hold offices for the District Attorney's office. It's now impossible to tell that the newly merged floors, with high ceilings and tall, plentiful windows, were once a cramped, depressing collection of cell blocks. The entire building, in fact, seems really bright and open for a government office building. Courtrooms have been converted to meeting and conference rooms, the offices get sun from the building's two internal light courts, and many windows span more than one floor, all making the new HoJ not at all dismal and scary to be inside anymore.
Though there was a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Hall of Justice earlier this month, the building's two tenants—the Sheriff's Department and the District Attorney's Office—aren't expected to move in until January. An entirely new structure, a 1,000-car parking garage with four underground levels, sits next to the Hall in anticipation of all those new workers. The Hall of Justice is expected to get LEED Gold certification, something that Kearns says is not an easy task for a historic building. Everything is winding down on the project that's been 10 years in the making and soon the Civic Center's oldest standing government building will be back in business again. Take a look:
· Tour Downtown's Huge Hall of Justice Rehab, Underway Now [Curbed LA]
· Hall of Justice Ready to Get Fixed Up, Fight Crime Once Again [Curbed LA]
· Hall of Justice [Curbed LA]