Nostalgia Beat : A Retired LAPD Detective Leads an Effort to Turn an Old Station Into a Museum of Los Angeles Police History and Memorabilia


The man in the yellowing newspaper photo doesn't look happy, and who can blame him?

Richard Kalk, who unearthed the photograph in his search through Los Angeles Police Department archives, says the man probably ran a red light, for which he was imprisoned in what Kalk calls "our first air-conditioned jail."

The jail was a small cell attached to the side of a police motor scooter. In the photo the prisoner is being written up by a grim-faced LAPD officer.

The photo is one of thousands of bits of memorabilia which Kalk, founder of the Los Angeles Police Historical Society, plans to display in an LAPD museum. For five years, the historical society has been working on converting the old Highland Park stationinto a community and educational center that will showcase the LAPD's sometimes glamorous, sometimes inglorious history.

With a major fund-raiser scheduled for next week and a group of volunteers from the Walt Disney Corp. on board, the museum is on the verge of becoming a reality, one Kalk hopes can help reconnect the public with the police.

"The rebuilding of Los Angeles doesn't start with the buildings and parks," says Kalk, a 55-year-old retired homicide detective and winner of the department's medal of valor. "The rebuilding of Los Angeles begins with rebuilding the relationship of the police agency with the community."

Kalk hopes the museum will join places such as the Southwest Museum and the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum as a destination for Southland tourists. But he also wants it to draw students from area schools, and he is working with the Los Angeles Unified School District to add the museum to the district's civics curriculum.

"You can go into a kids' classroom and teach them--that's nice," Kalk said. "But you drag them out of that school environment and to a place like this, and teach them the same lesson, you get 20 times the response."

Kalk was winding up his 30 years with the LAPD when he hit upon the idea of starting a museum. "You start thinking about it when you get to be my age," he said. "You start thinking 'You know, when we walk out that door, there's nothing to show we've ever been through.' "

So Kalk and some friends and colleagues formed the historical society in 1989. The first task was to find a site, and the group settled on the LAPD's former Northeast Division headquarters in Highland Park, which was built in 1923 and has been vacant since 1983. They persuaded the City Council to lease it to them for $1 a year for the next 30 years.

There have been some troubles along the way: The Rodney G. King beating, which greatly tarnished the department's image, occurred just as the historical society was getting ready to go public with the project. And the building that will house the museum is scarred from a fire set by vandals earlier this year.

But Kalk said he hopes retrofitting can start on the old station in January with funds from an old city bond issue to finance seismic work on historic buildings. If Tuesday's black-tie dinner, which will honor the memory of actor Jack Webb, along with subsequent events, can raise the needed $3.3 million, the museum could be finished by 1997.

Kalk said the museum will have displays on the King beating and the ensuing riots, as well as on the rampant corruption in the early years of the department. "You've got to show the bumps," he said.

Among other exhibits, the museum will contain displays honoring recipients of the medal of valor and officers killed in the line of duty, exhibits of LAPD uniforms through the years and, Kalk hopes, an interactive area with a simulated crime scene where visitors can pretend they are eyewitnesses.

Plans call for a one-officer substation at the front of the museum, and the basement will be a community meeting area for organizations such as Neighborhood Watch groups.

The public has been able to get a sneak preview of the museum through the historical society's mobile museum, a converted Frito-Lay truck that travels to civic events and showcases some of the society's more popular memorabilia. The jail sidecar drew rounds of laughter when the mobile museum stopped at the Newton Division on a recent weekend.

"They should bring those back!" declared Sindey Ginyard, an Inglewood video technician.

"Imagine what the civil libertarians would say," Kalk said as he and Ginyard brainstormed on possible uses for the sidecar cell today. One idea was to use a similar vehicle at civic parades to "imprison" public officials.

Carmen Orquiz struggled to pry her daughter Stacie, 6, away from a display of glistening LAPD badges from the first half of the century. "I want the gold one, 'cause it's nice," Stacie insisted. One badge she pointed to was a police reporter's badge--a reminder of those cozier days in the 1920s, when the department gave out badges even to journalists.

Orquiz, a South Gate resident who is planning to enter the Police Academy this fall, said she was glad her three children had a chance to learn about police history. "They can get more familiar with what I'm getting into, and learn to respect police," she said.

And the displays of LAPD history reconfirmed 12-year-old Frederico Reyes' career plans. "I want to become an officer," he said as he stepped out of the trailer. "So I can protect people."

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