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City Officials Support Police Museum Plan : Highland Park: Backers can begin raising $6 million to modify a historic station.


Los Angeles officials have endorsed a plan to transform the city's historic Northeast Police Station in Highland Park into a museum that will house Los Angeles Police Department mementos and law enforcement exhibits.

The endorsement allows museum backers to begin raising the more than $6 million they need to open the facility.

Capping more than a year of debate on the future of the 65-year-old building, the Los Angeles City Council last week unanimously directed the city attorney to prepare an agreement leasing the station to the Los Angeles Police Historical Society for 30 years at $1 per year. The station, at 6045 York Blvd., has not been used by the Los Angeles Police Department since 1983.

Boasting a distinctive Renaissance Revival architecture, the station is a city and federal landmark that has often been used as a backdrop by Hollywood filmmakers. Last year, a group of police officers proposed turning it into a police museum.

In recent months, city officials have considered incorporating the police museum project into one of two rival proposals calling for construction of housing, offices and a restaurant in and around the historic station. City Councilman Richard Alatorre had said merging the museum with a commercial project would have provided private funding to renovate the building.

But last week's decision will allow the museum to proceed without ties to a commercial project.

"It was the only right thing you could use that building for," said Officer Richard Ledesma, a member of the historical society's board of directors who works at the Police Department's Northeast station on San Fernando Road.

Museum boosters, who earlier said the project would cost about $4.5 million, now have raised their cost estimates to $6 million for renovation, construction of exhibits and staffing.

A fund-raising consultant for the society has also recommended that an additional $1.5 million be raised as an endowment to offset some of the museum's operating costs.

Ledesma said the historical society board is also considering construction of a youth recreation center on the grounds, which could cost another $1.5 million to $2 million.

In his motion endorsing the museum lease, Alatorre stipulated that the organizers must provide a progress report in two years regarding their finances.

Sgt. Richard Kalk, president of the society and the museum's most vocal supporter, said the group has raised little money thus far because it has not had possession of the station. Now that the society has been given permission to use the building, he said, it will be easier to solicit donations.

"Everything has fallen into place," Kalk said. "The tentative response we're getting regarding donations is so positive. We're not going to have any trouble showing the city we can build the museum."

He said the society would seek funding from major corporate foundations and then launch a public donation drive.

The historical society has hired a professional fund-raising consultant, Culver City-based Netzel/Steinhaus and Associates. Jeff Conway, the firm's vice president, said the group will spend months preparing a more detailed budget and fund-raising strategy before launching a donation drive in 1991.

Organizers believe the museum could open in about five years.

"We are convinced it is a very popular project," Conway said. "We're confident of its success."

He said a key first step will be to expand the society's board from nine to 19 to include members who have more expertise in construction and fund-raising and to make it representative of the community's ethnic and cultural diversity. Current board members are all active or retired police officers.

The museum received a boost in April when Los Angeles voters approved a bond measure, sponsored by Alatorre, to pay for earthquake-safety repairs in city-owned structures. It included $1.2 million for the station.

Before the measure was approved, friction developed between Kalk and Alatorre because of the councilman's concern that the museum's backers had insufficient funds to build the project without working with a commercial developer.

But Robin Cramer, Alatorre's chief of staff, said a spirit of cooperation now prevails. She said the councilman's staff plans to shepherd the museum through the complex city planning approval process.

"What we're trying to do is work as a team from the get-go," she said.

Tentatively, the museum will display police guns and vehicles, a tribute to slain and injured officers, exhibits on famous arrests and unsolved cases and a comparison of actual law enforcement versus its depiction on television.

Al Fiori, whose Venice firm is the museum's design consultant, said the exhibits will have a strong educational component, showing youngsters the consequences of drug dealing and drunk driving. They will also focus on such crime-solving techniques as fingerprints, autopsies and fiber analysis.

Fiori said the museum will have many high-tech interactive exhibits such as a police car simulator that would allow visitors to experience participating in a street patrol and a device for creating a composite sketch of a crime suspect.

"It's not just going to be a static collection of police chiefs' pictures and badges," he said. "It's going to be a hands-on museum. This is a showcase for the state-of-the-art in police science."

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