CityDig: What the LAPD Leaves Behind at Parker Center - CityThink - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

CityDig: What the LAPD Leaves Behind at Parker Center

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection, USC Libraries

From 1955 until 2009, when most staff moved to a new administrative building a block away, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Parker Center was as a proud symbol of police modernization and a focal point for controversy. Last week Chief Charlie Beck padlocked its front doors, and the aging building now stands vacant.

When it opened in 1955, the new headquarters brought the LAPD’s traffic, central, and metropolitan divisions under one roof. The sleek design by architects Welton Becket and J. E. Stanton signaled the department’s turn, engineered by Chief William Parker, away from rampant corruption and toward the modern age of professional policing. With its labs rivaling those of the FBI, it was billed as the finest police headquarters in the world and routinely appeared in the long-running television series Dragnet. The building’s designers seemingly thought of everything—even rubber floors for the drunk tank.

But for others the building came to represent the LAPD’s controversial tactics—also associated with Parker—that engendered widespread mistrust among minority communities. After a jury acquitted four police officers in the 1991 Rodney King beating, an angry crowd gathered outside the Parker Center. Its parking kiosk was one of the first structures claimed by the ensuing riots.

Controversy was not limited to the practices promoted by the building’s occupants. When in 1955 workers uncrated “An American Family Protected By Police,” a bronze statue meant to grace the building’s main entrance, the elongated bodies and angular, featureless faces of sculptor Tony Rosenthal’s abstract figures shocked some observers. Art critics praised the sculpture, but the amateur critics on the city council hated it. One wanted it sent to the smelter. Another suggested that thieves could steal the artwork with little fear of police intervention. Ultimately, the Los Angeles art community rallied around the sculpture. It hangs today outside the Parker Center’s front doors, its future as uncertain as that of the building it adorns.

Nathan Masters of the USC Libraries blogs here on behalf of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, cultural institutions, official archives, and private collectors hosted by the USC Libraries and dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden histories of Los Angeles.

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  1. OldPolitician posted on 01/23/2013 10:04 PM
    Re: the kiosk rioters burned on April 29, 1992- that kisok was not part of Parker Center. The kiosk belonged to the LA General Services Department and housed the parking monitor for old "Lot 4" which was located right next to Parker Center but was not for police use or under police control. Everyone mistakenly believed the kiosk was part of Parker Center, including the crowd gathered outside that evening. The "rioters" thought they were doing their part for the "revolution" when they burned what they thought was a "police" kiosk, so the joke is actually on them. In the weeks after the rioters "bravely" attacked the General Services kiosk the GSD parking attendant made do with a desk until a flatbed truck rolled up with its replacement.
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