With demolition of Downtown Los Angeles’s storied Parker Center building expected to begin later this year, activists are racing to preserve the structure, which the city plans to replace with an office tower.
On Monday, City Clerk Holly Wolcott announced that proponents of a ballot initiative calling for the building to be preserved and rehabilitated as homeless housing could begin gathering petition signatures to qualify it for a future election.
Which election that would be is hard to say. The deadline’s already passed to qualify measures for LA’s next polling day in November. No elections are scheduled in the city in 2019, so—even if signature gathering is successful—voters may not be able to weigh in on the initiative until 2020.
By then, Parker Center could be rubble.
But Jill Stewart, director of the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is leading the initiative, says that’s not “much of a problem.”
She points out that the measure could be brought before voters sooner in the event of a special election, and that demolition of the Parker Center isn’t expected to be complete until the end of 2019. She also expects that “red tape” could slow the tear down further.
Built in 1955, Parker Center served as the longtime headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department, but has been empty since 2013.
As the city formalized plans for a Civic Center overhaul that would require the building’s demolition, preservationists argued that the building’s innovative design by architect Welton Becket made it worthy of landmark status.
Despite a hearty recommendation from the Cultural Heritage Commission, City Councilmembers ultimately rejected the landmark effort, saying the building’s close ties with multiple LAPD scandals and discriminatory policing practices made it unworthy of preservation. Numerous Little Tokyo residents and business owners also advocated for the teardown, as the building sits on land seized from the community through eminent domain.
Supporters of the ballot measure say turning the building into supportive housing for homeless residents—and renaming it after former mayor Tom Bradley—would allow the structure to be preserved while distancing it from its messy past.
The coalition even brought in architecture firm Glavovic Studio to consult on the project. Studio president Margi Nothard told Curbed in May that the building could support nearly 500 residential units, though many would be less than 300 square feet in size.
The City Council earlier this month approved a financing plan for the demolition of Parker Center, seemingly sealing the structure’s fate. But backers of the initiative aren’t giving up just yet.
Once petitioning begins, they’ll have 120 days to gather nearly 65,000 signatures.