DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Parker Center has been empty since the Los Angeles Police Department left the structure in 2009 for the $440 million Police Administration Building. For many, that emptiness is a good thing: Long before the LAPD departed, officers complained about the bedraggled state of the aged building.
With the LAPD out, the city began looking at alternative uses, and appeared to have settled on a plan to tear down the 1954 edifice and build a 27-story office tower in its place.
Now, that route is uncertain. The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission this week is expected to vote to nominate Parker Center as a Historic-Cultural Monument. A commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 29.
The commission move would be unusual, said Ken Bernstein, manager of the city Office of Historic Resources. Normally, he said, outside organizations or City Council offices, not the commission itself, suggest a property for review.
Approval of the nomination would throw a wrench in the plans to build a new structure, though it probably would not prevent it. According to Mahmood Karimzadeh, a principal architect with the Bureau of Engineering and the lead architect on the Parker Center project, the plan to approve the tower, which would house workers from departments including General Services, Personnel and potentially Public Works, was expected to come to City Council by May.
The commission’s nomination would push that timeline, as the nomination would need to be reviewed by the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, then the full council. The process that could take more than three months.
If Parker Center indeed gains monument status, any effort to demolish or renovate it would need review by the Cultural Heritage Commission. That could take up to an additional year.
“We can’t touch the building at all during this process,” Karimzadeh noted.
The city needs more space to accommodate staff in the Civic Center. Some say the Parker Center plan, though costly to build, would ultimately save money by allowing the city to end leases in private buildings.
A review of Parker Center by Office of Historic Resources staff found that it meets the criteria for monument status, Bernstein said. It deemed the structure from architect Welton Becket significant, and noted Parker Center’s status as a world-class law enforcement building when it debuted.
Despite recognizing its historic importance, the Bureau of Engineering recommended demolishing Parker Center and building the new structure over two other plans that would salvage the property. A teardown and the creation of a 27-story tower is expected to cost $475 million.
Preservationist organization the Los Angeles Conservancy has been vocal about preserving Parker Center. Adrian Fine, director of advocacy at the Conservancy, said he supports an alternative plan, budgeted at $325 million, to save Parker Center and build an 11-story structure next to it. The Little Tokyo Historical Society also supports that proposal.
In a memo to Mayor Eric Garcetti in September, LTHS President Michael Okamura wrote, “The history of the block including the iconic Parker Center is significant to the Japanese American Little Tokyo community, so preserving the building is important and [it] should not be destroyed and forgotten after a life of only 60 years.”
The Bureau of Engineering has said the proposal backed by the Conservancy and the LTHS offers just 522,255 square feet of space, compared to 753,730 square feet in the 27-story tower. To make the preservation plan match in size, Karimzadeh said, the 11-story tower would need to balloon to 25-27 stories. Parking requirements, he added, would mean the creation of a 12-story parking structure, with eight floors above ground.
“The whole thing would be 33-35 stories, making it taller than City Hall,” Karimzadeh said. “On the street, you would only see a parking structure. A small footprint like this is extremely inefficient and price-wise, there would be a huge feasibility issue.”
Still, Cultural Historic Commission President Richard Barron, who is also an architect, questions whether the Bureau of Engineering’s preservation plans are as ambitious as possible. The city’s desire to create so much new office space also needs closer inspection, he added.
“We would like to see a more complete Civic Center master plan. The city has a requirement for 1 million square feet of additional office space, but that was reviewed seven years ago, and we question whether that’s still valid,” he said. “To tear down [Parker Center] without dealing with these issues seems problematic.”
Even if the building receives monument status, demolition is still possible. If that happens, Karimzadeh said, Bureau of Engineering staff would partner with historic architects and advisors to preserve items of interest and document every step of the teardown.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015