A Look Back At The Parker Center's Unsettling Past Before It's (Most Likely) Knocked Down
When the Los Angeles Police Departent's new headquarters opened in 1955, the West Coast Modernist structure was the physical embodiment of Chief William H. Parker's dream of a nationally recognized monument to modern policing.
Fewer than four decades later, the Parker Center would become the focal point for the unbridled rage of a community after four LAPD officers were acquitted of assault charges in the beating of Rodney King.
Originally called the Police Administration Building, the building was renamed for Parker after his death in 1966. A fair share of America's most notorious criminals passed through its doors, including Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan and the Hillside Strangler, who were all booked at the facility.
In the end, the LAPD's "Glass House" would fall victim to an unstoppable thief: time. In 2013, it was shuttered. By the end of 2019, it could be wiped from the city landscape entirely.
The future of the structure now hinges on a possible injunction. Last Wednesday, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation sued the city of Los Angeles, claiming that the building they plan to replace it with — a $700 million dollar office tower — is a waste of taxpayer money. Instead, they say the space should be used to house the homeless.
Despite that, city officials told LAist that "pre-demolition" began Monday. Next week, they'll get to work removing harmful lead and asbestos. The walls will start coming down "a little bit later," according to Anna Bahr of Mayor Eric Garcetti's office.
The Parker Center's past, much like its future, was not without controversy. Let's take a look back.
WWII TO HQ
After 15 years with the LAPD, Parker left to fight during WWII. He was wounded during the invasion of Normandy and received several awards for his service. When he returned to L.A., he quickly worked his way up the ranks and was tapped to lead the force in 1950. His military service informed his resolve to change policing, according to Richard Schave, co-founder of LA-based Esotouric bus adventures
"(Parker) wanted to make the Los Angeles Police Department the most modern and efficient municipal law enforcement department in the country," Schave told KPCC's Take Two. "His vision for reform and innovation is intrinsically tied up the style and function of his new police headquarters."
Part of that vision, Schave said, was a headquarters wired from "head-to-toe." And it was. That included the jails and telephone lines.
Former employees who worked in the building described to the L.A. Times "a maze of hidden pneumatic tubes, some large enough to move bulky files, to automatically connect records clerks with detectives and booking desks... along with 'super-secret' electronic recording equipment that included 60 concealed microphones in jail cells and interview rooms and 25 telephone tap devices."
THE RISE OF THE CRIME LAB
Prior to the creation of the Parker Center, police would often rely on outside labs when solving a case, according to Schave. That changed under chemist Raymond Pinker, who would establish the LAPD crime lab.
Yes, the Ray Pinker of Black Dahlia fame. He'd become the department's public face for forensic evidence and help bring a greater legitimacy to the practice.
Pinker's scientific methods helped put many criminals behind bars, including police officials. After the 1938 car-bombing of a former LAPD detective who was investigating corruption in the force, Pinker's lab traced it back to a captain in the department's intelligence squad. The captain was convicted of the crime.
'DRAGNET' AS POLICE PR
Ray Pinker would be portrayed by Jack Webb in the 1947 film He Walked By Night. His character would later inspire Webb when he created the 1950s TV series Dragnet.
Chief Parker, understanding the value good public relations would have for the department, opened LAPD files to Webb. The department headquaters also starred as itself in the series.
"He just lets this television show create this persona for the Los Angeles Police Department," Schave said.
Dragnet has been criticized for glamorizing the LAPD, while in the real L.A., brutal, racist police tactics were being imposed on the city's communities of color and tensions would boil over — more than once.
A SYMBOL OF THE L.A. RIOTS
Parker Center would become ground zero for the protests and rioting that began after the infamous 1992 verdict in the beating of Rodney King, in which four LAPD officers were acquitted of assault charges.
Schave pointed to "haunting" images of crowds gathered at Parker Center. Police officers stood in formation as demonstrations grew and turned violent. Doors were locked. Windows were broken. Fires were set outside the building.
"This is really part of the narrative of the city and a narrative that I don't think Parker would like to look back on," Schave says.
The 1992 riots were not the first time the Parker Center became the focus of community frustration. Throughout the 1980s, activists from communities of color gathered in front of the building to protest police tactics.
An L.A. Times editorial from 2017 argues that the building's "dark history" is the reason it won't be saved. Despite efforts to protect it, the City Council decided against dubbing the Parker Center a historic-cultural monument and backed the plan to tear it down.
The building, much like the man whose name it bears, now appears poised to become part of the city's long, complicated, and at times painful past.
LAist news editor Ryan Fonseca contributed to this story.
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