Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Parker Center Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters
Hello Everyone:

One of the things that yours truly is fond of saying is "historic preservation is not always about saving the happy and victorious places. Sometimes, the places that have dark stories to tell are worth saving too."  This applies to Parker Center in Los Angeles, California, the former headquarters of the police department.  The building has been scheduled for demolition and redevelopment before it hit a procedural bump in the historic designation process earlier this month.  Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy ( wrote in a post for the DoCoMoMo US Newsletter, ""L.A.'s Parker Center: Should Buildings with Difficult Histories be Saved,"

Now after nearly six months of efforts to designate the building as a local landmark, a procedural error by the City forced the process to begin again from start.  The good news is the City has introduced a motion to study another preservation alternative that hopefully will find the right balance between preservation and ...demolition of the building.

William H. Parker
The efforts to save the former police headquarters illustrate similar discussions around the United States, as elements of growth and politics begin to merge.  Preservationists often find themselves passionately advocating on behalf of mid-century buildings with complex and layered histories-especially those "negatively associated with civil rights and justice issues, as well as those that came about through the loss and stigma of...renewal and displacement."  The efforts to prevent Parker Center's date with the wrecking ball are timely, given recent events in Baltimore, New York City, and Ferguson.  The real question is should buildings with difficult and controversial pasts be saved?  Blogger concurs with Ms. Fine and Conservancy's position that Parker Center should be saved because it is part of Los Angeles's history.  It is a document of its past and informs the future.  Here's why.

Parker Center is a building with a controversial past. Named for the late police chief William H. Parker who brought institutional reforms to the department.  Yet for all his efforts to make the LAPD a professional and respected organization, he could not train away the racist, bigoted, and misogynist attitudes his men held. James Ellroy's wonderful novel (later a great movie) L.A. Confidential is good popular culture example.  The movie takes places in the fifties during the Parker-era.  The opening scene, where the officers are celebrating the Yultide, based on the "Bloody Christmas" incident which left seven men-five Latino and two Caucasian-with multiple fractures and ruptured organs.

William Parker and Jack Webb
While Ms. Fine and the Conservancy hope that by saving Parker Center,  it can be repurposed in such a way that we can begin to address the challenges of twenty-first law enforcement and the place it holds in the history of the "City of Angels."  Ms. Fine admits,

Many people cannot imagine preserving Parker Center given the building's troubled history and being mired in controversial events and personalities.  While it encompasses both positive and negative association, Parker Center is undeniably historic.  it is a place with such significance that it can help teach us valuable lessons and empower us to face, and own, the totality of our history.

Theme Mural of Los Angeles
Joseph Young (1955) Parker Center
Photograph courtesy of the L.A. Conservancy
Parker Center was built in 1955 as an eight-story International-Style building that included site specific artwork and landscaping-elements that were important postwar additions to postwar the Los Angeles Civic Center. Originally known as the Police Facilities Building, it was design by the prolific firm of Welton Becket & Associates and J.E. Stanton with landscape by Ralph E. Cornell.  It was renamed Parker Center in 1966.  Parker Center is an example of the Becket "Total Design" approach and features art installations such as Theme Mural of Los Angeles by Joseph L. Young.  Ms. Fine describes the building, "...building's innovative design, which integrated virtually all departments into a central facility, was critically acclaimed at the as a model for modernizing the police force-as were the state-of-the-art crime labs and communication centers."  Parker Center even found its way into popular culture via the iconic police detective series Dragnet.

Street scene in Little Tokyo
Los Angeles, California
If we just go by the above stated fact alone, then Parker Center's importance would not be in doubt.  Based on its own merit,  the building has been identified as eligible for the California Registry of Historic Resources and as a contributor to the National Register-eligible historic district of Los Angeles Civic Center.  Yet, the story you're about to read of how it came to be is true. (sorry Jack Webb).

The site upon which Parker Center now stands was once two of the most active blocks in Little Tokyo.  Contained within these two streets were numerous family owned businesses and cultural organizations that served the Japanese-American community.  Beginning in 1948, the City designated these blocks as part of the Civic Center expansion plan and nascent urban renewal.  The existing buildings were razed, however as Ms. Fine observes, "...many of which would be considered historic if still standing."  The site was remade into a single superblock and construction on the LAPD headquarters began in 1952.

Little Tokyo, c.1935
Los Angeles, California
The federally funded urban renewal program ended over forty years ago, however it still remains a sensitive subject for preservationists and those personally affected.  It was not just buildings in Little Tokyo that fell victim to the wrecking ball, there were other neighborhoods, such as Bunker Hill, that suffered as well.  The forced displacement of businesses and families, in the name of urban renewal, rekindled the feeling that history was repeating itself as some of the very same people had been forcibly interned during World War II.  Parker Center's role in the history of Little Tokyo is not without controversy.  Yet, the significance of the building, within the context of the neighborhood, is not something easily forgotten nor should be eliminated.  Quoting Michael Okamura, the president of the Little Tokyo Historical Society (, Ms. Fine writes, Preserving the building is important, and not be destroy and forgotten after a life of only 60 years.

Parker Center with City Hall in the background
Last September, the Little Tokyo Historical Society joined the Conservancy in petitioning the City to support a preservation alternative that would keep the main portion of Parker Center, while allowing for expansion in the back part of the site.

The history of Parker Center has not always been a positive one-given its urban renewal ancestry.  William Parker, who oversaw construction, was one of the most distinguished yet controversial police chiefs in the city's history.  During his tenure (1950-66), he professionalized the force and instituted standards that are still in use today.  Yet, for all these accomplishments, Chief Parker's leadership was marred by rampant discrimination of African-Americans and Latinos.  This problem was brought into the glaring light of day in 1965 following the Watts Riots and in 1992 (under the tenure of his protege Chief Darryl Gates) after the acquittal of the four officer accused of beating Rodney King.

It may sound ironic, almost counter-intuitive to preserve a place like Parker Center but as yours truly said at the top of the post, historic preservation is not always about saving the happy and victorious places.  Places with a controversial history are living documents of where we were as a society. Their continued existence is a reminder of our past deeds.  From controversial places, we can glean lessons for the future.

If you would like more information about the Los Angeles Conservancy's efforts to save Parker Center, please visit their website and please help by signing their petition on  

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