Collectors to liberate jail’s doorknobs


It may well be the tamest jail-related riot ever.

Two mundane relics from Santa Monica’s Depression-era lockup have sparked a frenzy of interest from architectural buffs and home hardware aficionados.

In the two weeks since the city announced that it would give away two doorknobs from the shuttered jail, more than 20 people have tried to stake claim to them. By all accounts, the competition is fierce.

The lockup, a Moderne-style building that was completed in 1939, was designed by two Los Angeles architects and featured Gladding, McBean ceramic tiles and Stanton Macdonald-Wright murals. But the building also has lead paint, and now that it’s being converted for use as a computer network center, it was determined that the only items that could be salvaged and distributed to the public were the two doorknobs.

The California Office of Historic Preservation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is helping to fund the conversion, require that the city advertise the relics for 30 days.

After that, “we’ll decide who will get the doorknobs,” said Margarita Wuellner, director of historic resources at PCR Services Corp., consultants for the city.

The knobs are from doors in the second-floor kitchen and the third-floor officers’ bathroom, Wuellner said.

The jail was closed in 2002 when a new public safety building opened nearby. As part of the “adaptive reuse” plan, the city will install a permanent exhibit displaying a jail cell, part of a metal staircase and other features.

“It’s exciting that there is so much interest in little pieces of history,” said Alex Parry, an architect for the city.