The fate of the Parker Center, LAPD’s iconic former headquarters, is once again in doubt after a municipal committee reviewing plans for the property site recommended demolishing the historic structure. In response, LA’s Cultural Heritage Commission re-nominated the building for landmark status last week after city officials botched an attempt last year to designate the center as a Historic-Cultural Monument.
Debate over what to do with the Welton Becket-designed midcentury office building has been swirling since the police department moved into its shiny new headquarters in 2009. Four years later, the city released an environmental study detailing three possible options for the building’s future. These included plans for preserving, altering, or completely demolishing the structure.
Much to the dismay of preservationists, a report from the public works department and the Bureau of Engineering recommended the latter option, which would replace the eight-floor Parker Center with a 27-story office tower.
This resulted in several desperate attempts to save the building. In a rare move, the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission nominated the Parker Center for landmark status (though commissioners themselves can nominate buildings, they seldom do, instead reviewing candidates submitted by the public).
Unfortunately, the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee accidentally missed a key deadline to consider the nomination, and the building was never given monument status.
Meanwhile, Councilman José Huizar, who reps the Downtown area, asked city officials to consider a fourth plan for the property site, which would preserve the structure and allow for the construction of the taller new tower. According to the LA Conservancy, the city’s Municipal Facilities Committee wasn’t very taken with that idea—especially given that a report from the Bureau of Engineering suggests that it would cost the city an extra $107 million to preserve the Parker Center.
Given the committee’s recommendation that the civic center structure be demolished, the Cultural Heritage Commission snapped into action, getting the ball rolling on a second attempt to name the building a Historic-Cultural Monument. That should give it a reprieve from the wrecking ball while the nomination is under review, but even landmark status won’t necessarily save the Parker Center. Under city rules, Historic-Cultural Monuments can still be demolished if no good options for preservation emerge during a review process.
The question of whether to preserve the Parker Center isn’t only a matter of time and money. Some have argued that the time has come to move on from the aging edifice, which to many has come to represent some of the darkest chapters in Los Angeles history, including the 1992 Rodney King riots and the shocking revelations of the Rampart scandal less than a decade later.
Preservationists, on the other hand, point to the building’s sophisticated design as a prime example of the distinctive, modernist style that characterizes so many of Los Angeles’s greatest landmarks. As the LA Conservancy points out, the building was "considered one of the most modern and advanced centralized police headquarters facilities in the nation" upon its completion in 1955 and its recognizable facade has appeared in countless films and TV shows since then.
While the city reviews the building’s nomination for landmark status, the project will also be reviewed by Public Works and Budget and Finance committees. LA Conservancy expects those committees will provide their own recommendations by early 2017.