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Around the Foothills

"This building gets you excited."

December 21, 1989|DOUG SMITH

On duty, Sgt. Richard Kalk works auto theft in the Rampart Division.

On his own time, he commands a different sort of police mission. The 29-year veteran has created the Los Angeles Police Historical Society. Its sole purpose is to acquire the old Highland Park Police Station on York Boulevard as home to the Los Angeles Police Department Museum.

The station has been vacant since 1983, when the LAPD's Northeast Division moved to a larger building on San Fernando Road. Since then, the city has been trying to work out a plan to save the 1925 Renaissance-style building, the last of a distinctive genre of police stations.

The day of decision is near. Three proposals have been submitted to the city's Public Works Department. Two come from experienced development groups. One wants to restore the three-story brown brick building as an ornament for a Shakey's Pizza parlor, and the other would surround it with an 80-unit apartment complex oriented toward artists.

Compared to his competitors, Kalk is a neophyte. He compensates for his lack of credentials by engaging the world with waves of enthusiasm. He writes proposals, solicits endorsements and donations and, if the situation suggests it, even leads cheers. This has been a week of cheerleading, thinly disguised as Christmas caroling. For three nights, concluding tonight, Kalk and his supporters are bringing caroling groups of Explorer Scouts and schoolchildren to the old station at 6045 York Blvd.

From 6 to 8:30 they assemble on a portable stage to sing before an audience made up of anyone who happens by. The members of LACE (Ladies Assisting Cops Enthusiastically) serve coffee and hot chocolate out of a portable police canteen.

The event was slow getting started Tuesday night. About two dozen youths, led by a Santa Claus and two uniformed officers, sang with gusto but not precisely on key.

During breaks, Santa--an orderly at the Northeast Division's new station--cried, "Ho, Ho, Ho," to motorists on York Boulevard through an electric-powered megaphone.

The best attraction was the building itself, and the man who is trying to claim it.

City workers had installed temporary power to light the exterior. The powerful floodlights created a dazzling highlight of its Italianate arches and stonework. The inside, however, was dark. So Kalk led tours by flashlight.

In the shadows of the old police house, his excitement was palpable.

Walking by the old wooden sergeant's desk, he said it was the one he reported to on his first day as a policeman in 1961.

There were dozens of rooms in the old station, with names right out of Jack Webb's "Dragnet:" Records, Detective Bureau and, of course, the jail, a large cage of thick iron bars where a couple of dozen men could have lounged on the concrete floor.

"This used to be the roll call room," he said, voice echoing through a large open space in the musty basement. "So, as you can see, we're going to put the roll call room back in here. And we're going to have a community meeting room here. And then we can also lease it to the movie industry to shoot roll call scenes."

Later, Kalk joined a circle of fellow officers outside in an impromptu pep talk.

"When we didn't have this building, you know, you figured we'd have to buy an old market or something like that and then do something to it to make it work with the museum," he said. "But this building gets you excited."

When Kalk began thinking about a police museum early this year, the station wasn't available. The city had already chosen a developer to restore it as part of a shopping center. Then, last spring, Kalk learned that the developer had failed to acquire financing, leaving the landmark up for grabs again.

He wrote up a proposal. The idea was instantly popular but suspect as one man's sentimental vision. Since then, Kalk, in his bubbling way, has been broadening his support. He has received the endorsement of Jay Rounds, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, and the West Side firm of Fiori Panas & Associates provided an architectural rendering.

Author Joseph Wambaugh and former Los Angeles police chief, now state Sen. Ed Davis lent their names to the honorary board of directors of the Police Historical Society, which Kalk incorporated last month.

The base of his support lies in the police force.

"This is something that crosses all barriers," he said, standing outside among a circle of other officers. "There's no rank. This is a project that policemen, whether you're the chief of police, a P3, or a P2 dog in the street. . ." he struggled for the words. "It's a common love. This probably is the best morale builder that we've had in years. And I only got 29 years on the job."

Kalk is still a cop, however.

And that means he's a realist about his competition, which is better financed, more experienced and ahead in planning.

"I think we're a little late right now," Kalk conceded. "We have to let them know we have the heart."

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