LA City Council approves plan to tear down historic Parker Center

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a plan Friday to tear down Parker Center, the LAPD's former headquarters, and replace it with an office building for city workers as part of a larger redevelopment plan for the Civic Center area.

The Civic Center Master Plan calls for the construction of 1.2 million square feet of office space, mostly through developments proposed for the Parker Center site and the nearby Los Angeles Mall, a retail area below street

Councilman Jose Huizar said the unanimous approval of the environmental impact report for the plan essentially sealed Parker Center's fate and preparations for demolition will begin in the new fiscal year.

``By this time next year we will likely not have a Parker Center,'' Huizar said.

Last month, the City Council voted against naming Parker Center a historic-cultural monument, despite the Cultural Heritage Commission recommending the move.

Huizar, whose 14th Council District includes the Civic Center area and who also chairs the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, proposed the redevelopment plan. He cited the building's ties to the department's past
struggles with racial discrimination as a primary reason he voted against the historical designation.

Another source of opposition to preserving the building was the bitterness felt in the nearby Little Tokyo community when the land for Parker Center was seized by the city in the 1950s through eminent domain, not long after many Japanese Americans in the community had returned from internment camps. The area had been a vital center of the community, with more than 1,000 housing units and hundreds of businesses, including a Buddhist temple.

``I think that really hit home with a number of council members. Because we not only saw a history of discrimination, of when our Japanese citizens were interned and they came back to hopefully rebuild their lives and then
their property was taken from them,'' Huizar said. ``Not only that, Parker Center was built in a way that it essentially turned its back on Little Tokyo. It wasn't inviting, it was as if it did not matter.''

As part of the plans that were approved Friday, Parker Center will be replaced with a 27-story tower that includes 713,000 square feet of office space and 37,000 square feet of retail space.

A second office tower on the site of the Los Angeles Mall would also be constructed under the master plan, and the James K. Hahn City Hall East Building would eventually be demolished and replaced with a public courtyard.

City Hall East is across the street from City Hall, and the two buildings are connected by a walkway over Main Street. The city attorney's and municipal offices are located there.

Huizar's office estimated that tearing Parker Center down and building the new office tower will cost $483 million, but the overall cost of the entire master plan is still being developed. Key elements from Parker Center, including a mural and a sculpture, will be included in the new design.

Under the master plan, Parker Center would be replaced first, while City Hall East would not be demolished until as late as 2032. The BOE estimates that the city is in need of 1.1 million new square feet of office space for city workers in the Civic Center area.

The creation of the courtyard space would help open up City Hall to the surrounding communities, including Little Tokyo, Huizar said. He also said the new retail spaces will help draw residents into the area after hours.

Parker Center was designed by Welton Becket, who also designed the Capitol Records building, Music Center and Cinerama Dome. It was made nationally famous on the Jack Webb-starring police drama ``Dragnet,'' as well as other television series and films.

But for many, Parker Center symbolizes the LAPD's dark past on race relations, starting with its name.

The building was originally known as the Police Facilities Building. In 1969, it was named after former Chief William H. Parker, the chief from 1950 until his death in 1966. Allegations of racial discrimination by police and abuse against the black community are part of Parker's legacy, which included the 1965 Watts Riots.

After four LAPD officers were acquitted in 1992 of assault in the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King, violent riots broke out across the city and Parker Center was targeted by protesters who set fire to a parking kiosk and threw rocks at the building.

Despite the negative history, the Los Angeles Conservancy had argued for the preservation of the building, with supporters saying that the city cannot preserve only positive history.

But despite the recommendation of the Cultural Heritage Commission to preserve the building, the council disagreed and unanimously voted against the designation. At a Planning and Land Use Management Committee meeting on Feb. 7, Huizar fought back tears as he explained his opposition.

Huizar said he worked at the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, which is located in Little Tokyo, as a delivery boy when he was young. The paper was one of the businesses that had to relocate when the land for Parker Center was seized.

``I did get a bit emotional in the committee when I was talking about the injustices to the Japanese-American community,'' Huizar said Friday.

He added, ``It just kind of hit me what that would have been like for those residents. And I put that into the context of what is happening today, with our president who is promoting religious discrimination and some of the actions that were taken at the time at LAX with his executive order, it kind of reminded me that we have a lot more work to do.''

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