Parker Center’s ties with LA’s racial injustices may keep it from landmark status

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Time might be running out for the Parker Center, LAPD’s longtime headquarters and a likely casualty of a planned overhaul of Downtown LA’s Civic Center. In a dramatic hearing Tuesday, the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee decided against recommending the structure for landmark status after residents argued the building’s ties to some of Los Angeles’s darkest chapters outweighed its architectural significance.

Designed by prolific modern architect Welton Becket—who also designed such recognizable Los Angeles landmarks as the Capitol Records Building and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion—the Parker Center was considered a state-of-the-art facility at the time of its construction in 1955.

Named for legendary LAPD Chief William Parker, the building became recognizable around the country in association with the television show Dragnet. But it is also inextricably linked to several grim moments in LA history, including the Watts Rebellion of 1965, the 1992 Rodney King riots, and the Rampart scandal of the late 1990s.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, who represents Downtown LA and heads the PLUM committee, seemed on the verge of tears as he spoke about the nomination.

“To call this building a masterpiece specimen of midcentury architecture,” he said, “and to retain its landmark status with the Parker name is to further the revisionist history that dismisses the injustices done to many communities, including Little Tokyo.”

Plans for the building’s demolition have been around since around the time that the police department moved out in 2009. Meanwhile, an earlier nomination for the building’s historic designation was never considered due to an unusual scheduling mishap.

Now, the City Council is poised to review a plan to replace the Parker Center with a taller 27-story structure that would house city offices. The plan recommended by the Department of Public Works would also add community space to the site and create a pedestrian connection between City Hall and Little Tokyo.

That was an important issue for many of the Little Tokyo residents and business owners.

They pointed out that the land upon which the Parker Center was constructed was seized from Japanese property owners through eminent domain. The city’s decision to raze much of the Little Tokyo neighborhood came less than a decade after Japanese residents of Los Angeles were involuntarily interred at camps throughout the country during World War II.

“It is unbelievable to me that people are asking for a designation of historical significance for a building while ignoring our history,” said Chris Komai, board chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council. City officials, he argued, “should consider what’s best for Little Tokyo … if that means demolishing the Parker Center building, then let’s do that.”

Others pointed to the controversial legacy of Parker himself, who has for many come to be associated with an era of racist policing.

“The idea that the name William Parker, for the folks I represent, would be attached to anything called cultural or heritage is an abomination,” said Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

The Cultural Heritage Commission had voted in favor of landmark status, and in addressing the committee, cultural heritage commissioner Gail Kennard acknowledged Parker’s troubled legacy, but argued this did not lessen the building’s importance.

“I understand the reluctance of some who remember the ugly history of Chief Parker and the LAPD’s position against people of color,” she said. “But I also believe that the demolition of this building will not do anything to change that history.”

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