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Los Angeles | L.A. THEN AND NOW

Retired Police Station No. 11 Found a New Career

September 07, 2003|Cecilia Rasmussen | Times Staff Writer

It looks like the kind of police station that Hollywood would design for a period-piece cop series, but it's a real police station with a real pokey, a place where some big cases came down, and where a future Los Angeles police chief once cooled his heels as a juvenile delinquent.

And now Police Station No. 11, the 77-year-old, two-story brick Renaissance Revival station in Highland Park, has converted its cells and squad room into a museum, with relics and objects that show how the Los Angeles Police Department evolved from a six-man force in 1869 to its modern-day incarnation of nearly 10,000 officers.

"It's the last of the old city police buildings," says retired 30-year veteran Sgt. Det. Richard Kalk, founder and director of community affairs of the Los Angeles Police Historical Society, which oversees the museum and Community Education Center. "To the best of my knowledge, all the other old stations have been torn down."

Los Angeles opened the station on York Boulevard just west of Figueroa Street in 1926 -- the same year that Los Angeles County opened the now-shuttered Hall of Justice in the downtown Civic Center.

The station closed 20 years ago, marking the final chapter in a colorful history of scandal, crime and punishment.

In the 1970s, Mexican Mafia founder Joe "Pegleg" Morgan found the accommodations not to his liking, while Det. Robert Grogan chased the "Hillside Stranglers," Angelo Buono Jr. and Kenneth Bianchi, and handled a quadruple murder investigation that became known as the "Easter Sunday Massacre."

In 1973, the Symbionese Liberation Army planted a bomb inside the station; it was a dud.

The thick iron bars of the station's six cells held thousands of inmates, from the days of Prohibition and speak-easy arrests for illicit drinking to the age of drive-by shootings and crack houses.

The history of the station and the Northeast Division, which covers Highland Park and other communities, including Cypress Park, Eagle Rock, Mount Washington, Glassell Park and Atwater Village, predates the turn of the 20th century.

In 1898, Highland Park, then a vibrant enclave of artists and intellectuals at the edge of the Arroyo Seco, was annexed to Los Angeles because it needed the protection of the city's professional police department.

The day the annexation papers were signed, the LAPD showed up and deliberately burned down all the brothels that lined the Sycamore Grove Park area, the site of many state picnics.

By 1913, Highland Park's only policeman, an LAPD motorcycle cop named William B. White, was working out of a substation in a hardware store at Avenue 57 and Figueroa Street, when he tracked down and arrested 17-year-old Louis Bundy, who had brutally murdered a delivery boy named Harold Ziesche for $20.

It was Highland Park's first juvenile murderer, and perhaps the nation's first tobacco defense -- that an irrepressible urge for cigarettes drove Bundy to commit the crime. The defense tactic failed, and Bundy was hanged the following year at San Quentin.

For solving the case, White was promoted to lieutenant in 1914 -- and the LAPD organized its first juvenile crime prevention program, calling it the City Mothers' Bureau. The juvenile crime program would in time snare a future LAPD chief.

It was in 1942 that a 16-year-old Daryl F. Gates was in front of the Franklin Theater on Figueroa Street waiting for a buddy. Two officers pulled up behind his '36 Ford to write him a ticket for being double-parked.

At the same time, Gates' brother, Lowell, walked out of the theater and tried to talk the cops out of the ticket. But after one of the officers shoved Lowell, Daryl Gates got mad and punched him.

A buddy of Gates -- who had also come out of the theater -- punched the other cop. Daryl Gates and his buddy were handcuffed and taken to the station, where they were forced to sit on the floor in the upstairs juvenile division until they apologized.

"Nose to nose, I mumbled, 'Uh sorry. Won't happen again,' " Gates wrote in his 1992 autobiography, "My Life in the LAPD."

As the city's population swelled during Prohibition, the Highland Park station opened, at a cost of $100,000, in April 1926. Police Chief James Edgar "Two Gun" Davis, a commander who protected graft, payoffs and cops on the take, was joined at the opening celebration by police commissioners and the station commander, Capt. George McClary.

In 1928, Highland Park Division Capt. J.J. Jones thought he had found a missing boy, and returned the child to the missing boy's distraught mother. But when the mother said that, although he resembled her son, the boy was not hers, Jones vehemently insisted the boy was indeed her son.

The public was outraged when he suggested she "try the boy out."

"What are you trying to do, make fools out of us all?" Jones demanded of the woman. "Or are you trying to shirk your duty as a 'mother' and have the state provide for your son? ... You are a fool!"

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