Wrecking Ball

Welton Becket’s Parker Center in L.A. headed toward demolition

Architecture Preservation West
The Los Angeles City Council voted this week to deny Historic Cultural Monument status to the Welton Becket-designed Parker Center. (Courtesy Jeff Costlow)
The Los Angeles City Council voted this week to deny Historic Cultural Monument status to the Welton Becket-designed Parker Center. (Courtesy Jeff Costlow)

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously this week to deny Historic Cultural Monument (HCM) status to the Welton Becket-designed Parker Center building in Downtown Los Angeles.

The eight-story structure is organized as a long office block, with the two narrow ends of the building wrapped in buff, blank stone and the two broad sides punctuated by continuous lengths of ribbon windows. The street-fronting portions of the building are lifted off the ground on slender piloti, creating an entry portico.

The structure was built in 1955 during the post-World War II building boom and reflects classically Modernist building attributes, including the fact that it was built on land cleared for development via eminent domain. That attribute, as well as the building’s problematic history as the headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department, haunted the building’s HCM nomination. The building sits on land that had once been part of the city’s Little Tokyo neighborhood but was taken over in the 1950s to make more room for the city’s growing Civic Center. The project caused the destruction of a wide swath of the community and displaced at least a thousand residents and many businesses and places of worship. Local residents opposing the HCM nomination argued that this injustice—taking land owned by Japanese-Americans just a decade after many had been interred at various across the west during World War II—overruled any of the architectural or aesthetic value of the structure.

At a meeting in early February, the city’s Planning and Land-Use Management (PLUM) committee declined to recommend the structure for HCM-status because of these community concerns. Downtown’s City Councilmember Jose Huizar echoed community concerns at the PLUM meeting, saying, “To call this building a masterpiece specimen of midcentury architecture 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.” Huizar’s testimony made reference to Parker Center’s recent history as one of the central sites implicated in the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

Recently, the City of Los Angeles issued a new master plan for the Civic Center area that calls for the demolition of Parker Center in order to make way for a 28-story mixed-use tower. The new plan aims to turn the Civic Center from a sleepy office quarter into a mixed-use residential neighborhood. The 750,000-square-foot office tower slated to replace Parker Center will contain ground floor commercial spaces surrounded by public spaces and greenery.

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