A coalition of local activists and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation announced the launch of a ballot initiative Thursday that would force the city of Los Angeles to preserve Parker Center and convert the former police headquarters into a homeless housing complex named for former mayor Tom Bradley.
That’s a big deviation from what’s called for in a master plan to remake Downtown LA’s Civic Center, under which Parker Center would be torn down and replaced with a 27-story office tower. The Welton Becket-designed building, constructed in 1955, has sat empty since the LAPD moved out in 2013.
Proponents of the ballot measure include several homeless advocates and the Coalition to Preserve LA, which spearheaded a failed voter initiative last year that would have frozen most major development projects in the city of Los Angeles.
Jill Stewart, director of the coalition, told Curbed earlier this month that the group had hired an architect to determine whether the midcentury office building could be transformed into homeless housing.
An announcement from the coalition includes a rough schematic of the project from Glavovic Studio, an architectural firm based in Fort Lauderdale. The diagram suggests the building could be retrofitted to hold 488 units of housing, including both temporary and longterm units.
Supporters of the plan argue that, in order to address rising levels of homelessness, city leaders should consider repurposing existing structures as housing, rather than focusing on construction of new permanent supportive developments.
Glavovic Studio president Margi Nothard tells Curbed that Parker Center’s slender design makes it possible to outfit the building with smaller residential units less than 300 square feet in size.
Nothard says an economic analysis for the project hasn’t been completed, but that she expects it could be done relatively inexpensively compared to a ground-up construction project of the same size.
The ballot measure also represents a last-ditch effort to protect Parker Center from the wrecking ball.
The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously recommended the structure for Historic-Cultural Monument status in 2016, but the city council decided against landmarking the building due to concerns about its complicated historical legacy.
During an emotional hearing on the landmark application, Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson argued that the building’s association with former LAPD chief William Parker made its preservation a slap in the face to communities affected by racist policing policies overseen by Parker.
Little Tokyo residents, meanwhile, complained that much of the neighborhood was razed to make room for Parker Center, diminishing an important cultural enclave only a few years after most of LA’s Japanese residents were forced into internment camps during World War II.
In a tweet from Housing is a Human Right, AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein suggested that renaming the building would “wipe away the stain” of its past while providing housing for hundreds of homeless residents.
In planning for the civic center overhaul, city staffers found that preserving the Parker Center and supplementing it with a neighboring office tower would cost significantly more than razing and replacing the structure. Converting the building into housing was not an option considered by the city during the civic center planning process.
That could change if voters sign off on the new ballot measure, but it’s not clear yet when they’ll get the chance.
Coalition spokesperson Ileana Wachtel tells Curbed that her group is still “working out the details” on when the initiative could go before voters.