Parker Center, the former headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department, may be worth preserving as a local cultural-historical monument.
The boxy mid-century modern edifice, named for former LAPD Chief William H. Parker, meets three out of the four of the criteria that the city requires for such designation (even though it only needs to meet one): It's a notable work from a notable Los Angeles architect; it is associated with important people and events; and it has played a leading role in the city's historical narrative and has provided a backdrop for scores of political and cultural dramas.
Or, maybe it doesn't deserve monument status.
Parker Center was a wreck when the Police Department moved out in 2009, and it's in even worse shape now. Although the building's bones are strong and intact, it needs millions of dollars' worth of structural repairs. And there are other, better, examples of the work of its architect, Welton Becket: the Capitol Records building, the Cinerama Dome and the Los Angeles Music Center, to name three.
Either way, though, the decision can't — and shouldn't — be put off any longer by L.A.'s elected officials, allowing the closed building to molder into irredeemable decay. Abandoned buildings have a tendency to fall apart quickly.
An environmental impact report conducted two years ago by city engineers recommended that the 1955 building (now closed and thrown over for a shiny new building a few blocks away) be demolished and replaced with one or maybe two office towers as tall as 27 stories. But in January, the city's Cultural Heritage Commission nominated it for monument status. The designation, which requires City Council approval, doesn't actually make future development on the site impossible or even rule out demolition of the building. But it does throw up enough roadblocks that a serious public debate would have to take place before it could be torn down.
As part of the Parker Center discussion, the city should start defining a larger vision for city's vast civic center. That downtown neighborhood may have Grand Park, but it has no grand vision. For the most part, civic center land-use decisions have been made on an ad hoc basis. That might have sufficed in the past. But now downtown is in the midst of an extraordinary real estate boom. A more comprehensive plan would help keep the city from tearing down buildings and throwing up others to meet demands that may vanish before construction is done.
The clock is ticking for the monument proposal, which will expire at the end of April unless the council takes it up. The recommendation has been tentatively scheduled for the City Council's land-use committee on April 28. That's cutting it awfully close. Councilman Jose Huizar, chairman of that committee, should make sure it is not dropped from the agenda.