The Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division threw a party last week to show off its new gymnasium and to revel briefly within its circle of friends.
The station is in an industrial district on San Fernando Road in Atwater. Visually as indistinct as the businesses around it, the station has one asset that could be appreciated only by someone who has taken the time to roam around inside: lots of space.
As a rule, police stations grow cramped over time as the communities around them grow. More criminals, more officers, more detectives. By the end of its useful lifetime, a station can have lieutenants packed so close together they have to twist to sit at their own desks.
That was the story with the old Northeast Division station before it moved five years ago from the handsome brick building on York Boulevard that had been its home for almost six decades.
Rather than build a new station, the city decided to buy a building which used to be a film processing plant. Inside, after partitions were put up to create spaces for the usual police work, something like a cavern remained in the center, unused.
That space has became a focal point for another hidden asset called BLEND, or Business for Law Enforcement in the Northeast Division.
Over the years, the owners of many small-to-moderate-sized businesses in the communities of the Northeast Division have rallied around the station, contributing time and money to assist the police.
Among BLEND's donations has been most of the equipment that turned the cavern into a gymnasium.
The gym, by the way, is not of the industrial chic variety that police officers have been known to frequent to harden their bodies on glistening, clinking machinery.
This one falls into the Main Street tradition with punching bags, floor mats, medicine balls and, as its centerpiece, a gorgeous blue boxing ring, 20 feet square.
The officers of the station and a civilian adjunct called the Northeast Youth Athletic League plan to use it to train neighborhood youth in the art of boxing and the virtues of self-discipline and resistance to drugs and gangs.
On Wednesday, the station formally opened the gym with a police-style soiree for about 100 guests who included business people, community volunteers and political leaders who gave short speeches like rounds of a boxing match, from the ring.
A driving rain delayed the ceremony by almost an hour as guests trickled in, made small talk and watched several young boys in blue Northeast Division T-shirts punch tentatively at the equipment.
About 6 p.m. Northeast Patrol Commander Pete Wahler, wearing his blues and service revolver, introduced himself as the ring announcer and summoned the speakers to the ring.
The politicians eagerly joined the shtick.
"Boy, if I can get through, you can get through," state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) said, lifting the padded rope as Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre seemed to strain to get through.
Even Los Angeles Councilwoman Gloria Molina, though not appearing entirely at ease in the setting, made her way in and took a seat among the men.
Alatorre, meanwhile, chose the spot next to an athletic young man in bright yellow sweats. It was Olympic boxing champion Paul Gonzalez, who made his career choice several years ago when he walked away from gangs and into the tiny gym in the basement of the nearby Hollenbeck Division station.
The two embraced like old friends and, while the program went on, continued to mug, play-box and whisper jokes in each other's ears.
In an eloquent talk, Wahler said the Northeast Division's Youth Athletic League began in 1985 as a vision and that what was being shown off that night was merely the first expression of that vision.
Its conclusion, he said, will come when the program grows out of the police station and into its own facility with a program for boys and girls in all sports.
Both Torres and Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Highland Park), pledged to try to dig up some state money to make that happen.
Gonzalez addressed the youth in the room, telling them what a feeling of strength they would get from having the backup of "I don't know how many--maybe 65,000 police."
Later, Police Chief Daryl Gates said the department doesn't yet have, but "can sure use 55,000 police officers."
Gates said he hoped the department could someday use fewer officers through programs that teach young people the values that, in his youth, were preached and practiced.
"It is a set of beliefs, a set of values," he said. "That's what the kids are going to get."
After the talks, the company moved on to yet a third hidden asset of the Northeast station.
That was a beer distributorship next door where the tasting-room taps were running and several tables were spilling over with international delicacies such as sushi, satay, borek, and finger quiche.
And the sun was out.