The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is suing the city of Los Angeles over its plans to demolish Downtown LA’s Parker Center and replace it with an office tower for city employees.
The organization’s president, Michael Weinstein, called the project a “flagrant waste of money” Wednesday, and argued that the city should instead convert the historic structure into housing for homeless residents.
City officials “complain all day long about NIMBYs,” said Weinstein, “when it’s they who don’t want affordable housing in their backyards.”
Demolition on the structure is scheduled to begin August 20, according to the city’s engineering bureau, though AHF officials said Wednesday that preliminary work appears to have already begun in the building’s lobby.
Liza Brereton, an attorney representing AHF in the lawsuit, tells Curbed that the foundation will likely seek a preliminary injunction halting any demolition work while the case is being decided.
It’s the latest development in a complicated saga to determine the building’s fate.
Constructed in 1955 and designed by architect Welton Becket, Parker Center served as the longtime headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department, but has been sitting empty since 2013.
Preservationists twice attempted to landmark the building, which is famous for its minimalist, modern appearance and many cameos in films and television shows. Those efforts failed, in part, because of the building’s ties to discriminatory policing tactics, as well as an eminent domain seizure that decimated a large chunk of Little Tokyo in the early 1950s.
“To call this building a masterpiece specimen of midcentury architecture, and to retain its landmark status with the Parker name is to further the revisionist history that dismisses the injustices done to many communities, including Little Tokyo,” Councilmember Jose Huizar in 2017.
Later that year, the Los Angeles City Council moved forward with plans to raze the structure and build a 27-story tower in its place. The cost of that project was initially estimated at just under $500 million, but has since ballooned to over $700 million, according to a May report from city staff.
AHF and the Coalition to Preserve LA announced plans for a ballot measure earlier this year that would allow the building to be converted to supportive housing for homeless residents. The structure would also be renamed in honor of former mayor Tom Bradley.
The foundation claims this could be done at a cost of $102 million, but an analysis from the city’s Bureau of Engineering pegs the price tag at $295 million.
Cost isn’t the only concern. Anna Bahr, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Garcetti tells Curbed that Parker Center is “seismically unsafe and contaminated with asbestos.” Bahr says the city is “focused on investing in new shelters and housing for homeless Angelenos that can be constructed quickly, cost-efficiently, and that will help our low-income and homeless neighbors without threatening their health.”
Weinstein told reporters Wednesday that concerns about asbestos and the seismic safety of the building could be addressed as part of a redevelopment project.
The Los Angeles Conservancy undertook its own analysis of how much it would cost to preserve the building as offices, and found that this option would be $50 million cheaper than the city’s initial estimate for new construction.
The conservancy has more or less conceded defeat in its attempts to save the building, writing on its website that Parker Center has “fallen victim to a flawed and politicized process, as well as the challenges of preserving places with difficult histories.”
But the battle over the building’s future rages on.
If successful, the lawsuit announced Wednesday would prevent the city from constructing the new office tower, but would do nothing to ensure that the plan to use Parker Center for housing moves forward.
State law allows residents or corporations operating within a city to sue over an “illegal expenditure” or simply a “waste” of local funds. Attorneys for AHF argue that LA’s plans for the Parker Center site are “wasteful, unnecessary, useless, and provide no public benefit.”
Weinstein says that he met with Mayor Eric Garcetti about the possibility of converting Parker Center into supportive housing after efforts to landmark the building failed.
The foundation has recently taken on multiple affordable housing projects, including a single-room occupancy building on Skid Row and a Hollywood motel that the nonprofit plans to convert into low-income housing.
Weinstein says the foundation is focused on redeveloping unused sites, rather than building new housing from the ground up. He says that Parker Center is a perfect example of a structure that could quickly be put to new use.
“It will be a terrible travesty if they knock this building down,” he said Wednesday.