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Developers Told to Keep Police Museum in Plans

March 08, 1990|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles councilman has decided there should be a shotgun wedding at the old Northeast Police Station in Highland Park.

Councilman Richard Alatorre has urged two private firms vying to commercially develop the historic station to incorporate the plans of a volunteer group that wants the 1925 building to be used as a police museum.

Although both private developers said late last month that they are willing to consider incorporating the museum into their plans, the nonprofit group would prefer to develop the museum project independently.

The three plans--and the prospect of a combined museum venture--was to be reviewed Wednesday by the City Council's public works committee. Still, Robin Kramer, Alatorre's chief of staff, conceded last week, "As we go forward, a marriage may not be possible."

Since 1983, when the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division relocated to larger quarters on San Fernando Road, city officials have been trying to preserve the 65-year-old Highland Park police station, at 6045 York Blvd. Boasting a distinctive Renaissance Revival architectural design, the station has been designated a federal and city landmark.

An initial private restoration and development plan collapsed a year ago. Alatorre sought new bids from parties willing to restore the station's facade, remove asbestos, make the building earthquake-safe and reserve areas for a police substation and community use.

Two developers and the police museum organizers submitted plans for the station and the surrounding land.

H.T. Greene and Associates of Los Angeles proposed a housing and commercial complex. The Jacmar Companies of Alhambra proposed a pizza restaurant and offices.

The Los Angeles Police Historical Society, founded last November, wants to use the site for a police museum, a law enforcement-oriented magnet school and a youth services center.

Last month, Alatorre urged that the museum be wedded to the commercial plans.

"The police museum proposal has clearly captured the imagination of the community, and I feel it would be a good use of the site, but the proposal lacks sound financial backing, as well as business, curatorial, arts management or development experience," the councilman said in a written statement.

"Therefore, I'm recommending that we request that the two other bidders, who seem to have the financial wherewithal, find a way to marry their respective plans to the police museum proposal," he said.

Both developers are willing to consider this idea, said Kramer.

But Los Angeles Police Sgt. Richard E. Kalk, who is spearheading the museum drive, said a partnership is not needed. He denied that his group lacks the financial support or museum expertise to build the project alone.

"Mr. Alatorre's office is not completely up to date with our board's efforts to put this on," he said. "I'm very frustrated that they haven't listened to us."

Kalk, who is president of the Police Historical Society, said two of his board members have college degrees in museum management. He said the group is also working with a local architect who is experienced in museum design.

Financing remains an obstacle. "Nobody likes to loan money if you don't own the building," Kalk said.

But he believes Highland Park leaders and thousands of active and retired police officers will assist with funding if his group can acquire the site.

Kalk said joining forces with a developer who wants to put apartments or a restaurant on the surrounding land would force the museum backers to give up their proposed youth center and magnet school. There would also be insufficient room for large outdoor exhibits such as a vintage police helicopter and a police van, he said.

Kalk recently met with developer H.T. Greene, but did not agree to join forces.

Robert Chattel, a Greene spokesman, said the museum would fit his firm's plans because a dance troupe that originally wished to occupy the restored station recently moved elsewhere.

"Our concept has always been that the police station would be used as a community center," he said. "It's our intent to make the museum happen."

Compared to the museum organizers, Chattel said, his firm has greater expertise in preserving historic buildings and in fund raising. He said his company wants to build a cultural showpiece, not just a profitable commercial complex.

"We would not have been interested in this site if the station were not there," he said.

The rival private developer, The Jacmar Companies, has made no commitment on incorporating the police museum. "We're not sure at this time until we study it," said Jack Keese, Jacmar's vice president of real estate development.

Chattel said his firm is impatient with the lengthy review process. It wants the city to negotiate exclusively with H.T. Greene and Associates, instead of continuing to string along two or three proposals.

Still, Alatorre aide Kramer pointed out, "The council has the option of finding that there are no adequate bids. They could toss them out and start over."

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