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Parker Center Threatened With Demolition Once Again

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Outside the Parker Center. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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Downtown's Parker Center, former headquarters for the LAPD, is no stranger to rumors of an imminent end. In the early 2000s, there were rumblings that the building could get demolished so that new police facilities would be built in its place—this didn’t happen, and the LAPD would establish its new headquarters just a couple blocks away.

Parker Center was far from being in the clear, however, as proposals for its destruction have cropped up intermittently (it has been mostly vacant since 2009). The latest episode will happen this week, as the City Council reviews the final environmental impact report on the proposed Los Angeles Street Civic Center Building, which will be built in place of Parker Center, reports Urbanize LA.

In the report, the city’s Bureau of Engineering recommends the demolition of Parker Center. The report says that one of the benefits of replacing the building would be increased connectivity in the immediate area. Specifically, the report says that it would improve pedestrian access to Grand Park and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It also notes that, when it comes to our current standards of energy efficiency, Parker Center is outmoded. The report goes on to say that planners reviewed the possibility of renovating Parker Center, and adding another building in the proximity to provide the needed square footage (the aim is to find new office space for city employees) . This idea was ultimately turned down however; the report says that the option wouldn’t work because it would be too expensive, present a “undesirable parking arrangement,” and necessitate the use of two elevator banks, which is also problematic in terms of energy efficiency.

Since the first rumors of Parker Center’s demise, preservationists have taken up the task of saving the building. As noted at KCET, advocates took steps in September to have the building designated as a Historic-Cultural Monument. In 2013, similar steps were taken, but the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (which is involved in the nomination process), had missed a procedural deadline in 2015, which resulted in the end of that action. In 2015, Councilmember Jose Huizar had put forth a motion urging city planners to build a new tower right by Parker Center, instead of demolishing it (this is the aforementioned project in which planners reviewed and deemed too expensive).

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Parker Center’s significance in L.A. lore is undeniable. The building was designed by Welton Becket and his firm, who are responsible for some of L.A.’s most prominent landmarks. Their legacy includes the Beverly Hilton, the Capitol Records tower, and the wonderfully zany Cinerama Dome. Parker Center, with its clean and imposing modernist facade, was eye-catching for its sobering simplicity.

The building’s history is not exactly rosy, and preservationists say that it's part of why the structure should be kept. As noted in a L.A. Times op-ed, the building is emblematic of the LAPD’s troubled past:

It's not nostalgia that motivates some in the African American and Latino communities to support saving Parker Center today, but a fierce determination not to forget its dark history. The building was renamed in 1966 after the sudden death of Police Chief William H. Parker, a posthumous honor for reforming a corrupt and politicized police force. But Parker also militarized the police under his command. The department's weekend roundups of African American and Latino youth, its practice of stop-and-frisk without cause, and its almost casual violence embittered minority communities. Patrol officers were seen as occupiers, not protectors. Coming just a year after the Watts riots, the naming of Parker Center was interpreted as Chief Parker's reward for keeping a lid on black aspirations for justice, jobs and dignity.

The Los Angeles Conservancy, which advocates for the preservation of the building, notes that the bad times are part and parcel with the building, and that the checked past doesn’t make it any less historic:

Parker Center is the backdrop to many important and often controversial stories in L.A.’s mid-20 century era, from early urban renewal and its impact on Little Tokyo and the Japanese-American community, to the turbulent evolution of the city’s modern-day police force. Parker Center helps impart these stories of a different time and place, and helps us remember our past. Parker Center and its associations can stir strong and mixed feelings about preservation. History and the events that take place are not always positive.
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The environmental review report will go before the Entertainment & Facilities Committee today, and is expected to be passed on to the council on Wednesday.