LA’s most endangered buildings

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Once known as a place where developers and city officials zealously tore down and replaced historic buildings and structures that had gone even momentarily out of style, Los Angeles has evolved into a city where eclectic building types and the architecture of multiple eras blends together.

Led by groups like the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, and Esotouric, LA has a strong community dedicated to historic preservation.

Advocates have recently scored victories, landmarking structures like Sunset Boulevard’s Hollywood Reporter building and CBS Television City in Fairfax. But not every effort to save the buildings that have shaped the city’s evolution is successful.

Cherished and historically significant structures like the Ambassador Hotel, Irving Gill’s Dodge House, and Downtown’s Richfield Building have all been demolished—or mostly demolished, in the case of the Ambassador.

The buildings on this list face an uncertain future—and, in a few cases, almost certain destruction. Each stands as a clear reminder of some aspect of the city’s past, but also as an obstacle to builders of its future. Enjoy them while you can; they may not be around much longer.


Alarico | Shutterstock

1. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Much of California’s largest art museum would be torn down in coming years if plans move forward for an ambitious redesign by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. That includes the earliest structures at the museum site, designed by prolific modernist William Pereira.

Museum leadership has long sought to replace the three Pereira buildings that comprise its original campus, opened in 1965. A later addition by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates would also be razed should plans for the new overhaul move forward.

Pereira’s original LACMA buildings “floated” majestically in pools of water. The architect envisioned that “restful splashing of the fountains” would drown out noise from Wilshire Boulevard and “set the museum apart visually.” But the pools proved problematic, as gas and oil seeped in from the nearby tar pits, and they were quickly filled in. Water was also a central design feature for Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District campus (below).


Metropolitan Water District
Photo by Julius Shulman, courtesy Getty Research Institute

2. Metropolitan Water District

Pereira’s former Metropolitan Water District headquarters is also slated for demolition now that developer Palisaides Capital Partners plans to build an enormous mixed use complex on the site.

The new development would include a trio of towers and other lower-slung structures. The complex would contain a hotel and nearly 800 apartments. Early renderings show much of the simple, modern style of Pereira’s building would be replicated in the new project—but none of the actual structure and surrounding water feature would remain.

Preservationists attempted to landmark the building in 2016. Pereira’s daughter, Monica, supported the designation, saying the project had been one of her father’s favorites. In reference to the water district’s role in keeping LA residents hydrated, Pereira surrounded the building with shimmering ponds and elaborate fountains.

Arguing that the building wasn’t in good enough shape to preserve, the Cultural Heritage Commission narrowly rejected the landmark application.


View looking up at Parker Center
AP

3. Parker Center

The Welton Becket-designed Parker Center, built in 1955 as the new home of the Los Angeles Police Department, was ahead of its time in terms of design and technology (it housed one of the world’s largest crime labs at the time).

But the building’s legacy is one that many residents are reluctant to celebrate. It shares its name with Chief William Parker, whose militaristic style of policing is often cited as a key factor leading to the Watts Rebellion in 1965.

The building is also associated with dark times in the city’s history, like the Rampart Scandal in the late 1990s.

The very land Parker Center sits on is contested. Los Angeles officials seized it from Little Tokyo community members through eminent domain shortly after residents and business owners returned from World War II internment camps.

For these reasons, the City Council refused to landmark the structure last year, electing instead to move forward with plans to replace it with a new office tower for city employees.

Preservationists, though, aren’t done fighting. An effort to save the building and convert it into homeless housing is underway, and supporters of that plan are now collecting petition signatures to place it on a future ballot.

They’ll have to hurry though; demolition work on the building is scheduled to begin later this year.

4. Roosevelt High School

This school in Boyle Heights was a key site of the East LA Blowouts in 1968. For two weeks in March, thousands of students walked out of Roosevelt and four other schools to protest racial discrimination in the classroom and limited educational resources for Mexican-American students.

Despite the school’s connection with this important moment in the city’s history, the Los Angeles Unified School District plans to demolish much of the campus, including the school’s original auditorium and classrooms, built in 1922.

LAUSD maintains that the older buildings are seismically unsafe and lack adequate classroom space. Preservationists say the buildings could be updated in a way that respects their historic significance.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently included all five walkout schools on a list of the nation’s most endangered historic places.


Times Mirror Square
Getty Images

5. Times Mirror Square

Los Angeles Times staffers are saying goodbye to the paper’s longtime headquarters, which Canadian developer Onni Group purchased in 2016. With the Times moving to a new building in El Segundo, Onni plans to thoroughly overhaul the complex, demolishing part of it and erecting two tall residential towers.

The portion of Times Mirror Square that the company wants to tear down includes a 1970s addition by none other than Pereira, who really can’t seem to catch a break these days.

This building is less popular than some of Pereira’s other works. In 2007, it placed second in our “ugliest building in Los Angeles” contest. Still, some architecture lovers argue it’s a misunderstood masterpiece.

Earlier this month, a group of preservationists led by Esotouric co-founder Richard Schave nominated most of the complex—including the Pereira addition—for landmark status. That wouldn’t guarantee the building won’t be razed, but it could delay demolition while city officials seek options for preservation.


Chase Bank/Lytton Savings and Loan
Photo by Hunter Kerhart, courtesy of the Los Angeles Conservancy

6. Lytton Savings

This Sunset Boulevard bank building was actually at the heart of a preservation controversy in the late 1950s, when developer and banker Bart Lytton paved over the bucolic Garden of Allah complex—once home to Hollywood luminaries like Greta Garbo and Orson Welles—to clear space for a strip mall.

That sequence of events is the rumored inspiration for Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

The building constructed at the site was an early example of midcentury bank architecture, with clerestory windows, a floating staircase, and an accordion-like roofline. Designed by architect Kurt Meyer, the building was landmarked in 2016, but is likely to be torn down during development of a multi-building Frank Gehry project set to include apartments and commercial space.

The Los Angeles Conservancy sued the city of LA to stop that from happening, but a court decision last month means developers can move forward with demolition.

7. Covina Bowl

This 1950s bowling alley is one of the best remaining examples of Googie architecture in Southern California. The eye-catching building was designed by Powers, Daly, and DeRosa, a Long Beach-based architecture firm that drew up plans for bowling alleys all across the Southland in the postwar years.

Sadly, Covina Bowl closed last year, and its future is murky. No explicit plans for demolition have been brought forward yet, but preservationists are prepared for the worst. The building was recently listed on California’s Register of Historical Resources, and a group called Friends of Covina Bowl has formed to protect the building should it face the wrecking ball.


Pickle Works
Google Maps

8. James K. Hill & Sons Pickle Works

As you might infer from the name, this large brick building in the Arts District was built as a pickle factory. Decades later, after the James K. Hill & Sons company closed up shop, artists moved in and the building became a gallery called the Citizens Warehouse and Art Dock. The space played a key role in making the neighborhood a haven for artists in the 1980s.

Built in 1888, the building is also among the oldest structures in Los Angeles. It was deemed eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 as a rare example of brick industrial architecture from the Victorian era.

The city purchased the building in 2007 as Metro prepared to extend the Gold Line into East LA. Some of the structure was demolished to allow for expansion of the First Street Viaduct.

Even more of the building could come down as Metro prepares to develop a new turnback facility south of Union Station, allowing for more frequent service on the Red and Purple lines. The LA Conservancy is in talks with Metro about how to maintain as much of the building as possible when constructing the project.

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