Crime Central: The Hall of Justice Rises Again Crime in L.A. - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

Crime Central: The Hall of Justice Rises Again

Inside the most famous building in the local legal system

Long it reigned as L.A.’s Taj Mahal of Misdeeds. Swathed in white Sierra granite, molded in the august beaux arts style, the Los Angeles Hall of Justice held 14 floors of courtrooms and jail cells, evidence rooms and coroner tables, as well as HQs for the district attorney, public defender, and sheriff’s department. From its 1926 dedication ceremony to its red-tagging after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the hall operated as a one-stop justice system, a nerve center for flatfoots and legal beagles. Perps were jailed, corpses autopsied, and punishment meted out. It was here that Robert F. Kennedy was officially declared dead after his assassination at the Ambassador Hotel, here that his killer, Sirhan Sirhan, was tried and convicted. Charles Manson pronounced his tiny jail digs “stone age,” while the actor Robert Mitchum—doing soft time for a 1948 pot bust—chose to gussy up his cell block, mopping floors for the news cameras. Hollywood both romanticized and feared the hall. Outside, Harold Lloyd clung to the Italianate columns for his one-reel comedies; inside, Errol Flynn and Charlie Chaplin slumped through sex and paternity cases. Beneath the hall lay sanctified criminal ground, Pound Cake Hill, where bordellos stood in the late 19th century and lynchings were staged. In 1870, half the police force was wounded or left dead in a gunfight on the site. Did mischief seep into those marble walls? In 1990, an elevator operator was crushed to death, and even the building’s mice were said to be hooked on a grass stash in the evidence room. No matter. An ongoing $300 million restoration has stripped the interior down to steel beams. When the hall reopens for business in 2015, it will become the home once again to the sheriff’s department and public defenders. The mice should be out of rehab by then.

 
 
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Laying the cornerstone of the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice on January 26, 1925, is William Davidson, Chief Mechanical Engineer for the county. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Installing granite on the exterior of the north side of the Hall of Justice on February 2, 1925. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Preparation of the site for construction of Los Angeles City Hall, 1927. Behind are the old County Courthouse and the Hall of Justice. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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A still was too large for court evidence so prosecutor Thurmond Clarke exhibited the evidence to Judge William S. Baird, outside the Hall of Justice on July 15, 1927. This is one of the first cases since a new law made it a felony to have a still. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Army tanks roll past the Hall of Justice in a parade in 1940, during World War II. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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The view looking north on Broadway toward the tunnel, with the Hall of Justice on the right, circa 1940s. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Voters flocked to the polls on November 7, 1944. Here is a scene in the polling place in the Hall of Justice. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Part of a panorama of Los Angeles Civic Center taken in 1946. Hall of Justice is at center, Broadway tunnel is at left. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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A crowd of sympathizers gathered outside the Hall of Justice to demand the release of eight people jailed for refusing to answer questions asked by the Federal Grand Jury investigating Communism, November 3, 1948. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Outside the Hall of Justice, actor Robert Mitchum looked out and up into unlimited space, where he was now free to move about as he chose. He completed a 50-day sentence in the County Jail March 30, 1949, on marijuana charges and was released. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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The south side of the Los Angeles Hall of Justice, 1962. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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CORE members sit on the floor in the Hall of Justice rotunda on January 30, 1964, in a sympathy demonstration for a jailed member. Their signs support school education. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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Charles Manson followers Brindle McCan, Sandy Good, Kitty Lutesinger and Catherine Gillies ("Capistrano") kneeling in front of the Hall of Justice on January 17, 1971. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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In this dateless photo, artist Dean Cornwell works on a larger-than-life canvas painting depicting an angel standing on a pedestal, wings spread open, holding a sword with the word "Justice" written at the bottom the pedestal. A female model wearing what appears to be a kind of toga stands on the first step providing the facial and body features for this image. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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A Cinco de Mayo celebration is taking place on the steps of City Hall, as people watch from across the street. People in Mexican costume holding a United States and a Mexican flag march in front of soldiers in uniform. The Hall of Justice is in the background. Photograph courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

 

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