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LAPD has a hard time leaving home

March 15, 2009|Steve Harvey

Southern Californians have a reputation for frequently changing residences. But the same can't be said of the Los Angeles Police Department, which has dwelt in only two headquarters in the last 113 years. That number will rise to three in November when the LAPD opens its new building just south of City Hall.

Its current home, Parker Center, is 54 years old and showing its age. As novelist Michael Connelly observed in his 2006 L.A. cop novel "The Overlook," so much planning has gone into the new building that little was "done to keep the current headquarters from sliding into decrepitude."

Of course, the department didn't have much in the way of snazzy accommodations in L.A.'s early days either. In the 1850s, the department was housed in a crude adobe jailhouse near Olvera Street. Later, the first paid force of six officers worked out of a wing of the old City Hall on 2nd Street.

In 1896, the LAPD was finally given its own home at 1st and Hill streets. The Times reported that a couple dozen police officers, "dressed in their oldest clothes, began the work of moving the furniture" into the station, along with such seized evidence as "roulette wheels, faro layouts and thousands of poker chips."

The first individual to land in the new jail at Central Headquarters, as it was known, was a drunk "lying prostrate on First Street," The Times said. He was loaded into a patrol wagon pulled by a horse named Grover, but he "could not adapt himself to the new order of things and started for the old station. It took a good deal of persuasion on the part of driver Cox to convince him that he must go up First instead of Second Street."

Security was so low-key that one Carl Warr, wearing a bizarre mask and a contraption filled with 60 sticks of dynamite, barged into the office of Police Chief Charles Sebastian in 1912 and threatened to blow up the neighborhood unless wages were raised for transit workers, including himself.

After an hourlong standoff, two brave officers jumped him, grabbed the bomb and ripped it apart as they ran out to the street. It did not detonate.

By the 1920s, Grover and his four-legged colleagues were being phased out, their horsepower inadequate. It was an era, veteran newsman Spud Corliss wrote, when "the police reporter used to strap on a gun, jump into the 'hot-shot' [lead] car with the detectives and, with siren screaming, ride to the scene." Sometimes the reporter even hand-cranked the old-fashioned siren.

But a reporter had to be nimble to get a ride.

"There's a story that detectives on the first floor would climb out through the windows rather than go around to the front door" when they got a call, said Glynn Martin, director of the Los Angeles Police Historical Society.

By 1930 the force was getting too big for Central Headquarters and some divisions were moved into the new City Hall. The pressroom there, as with pressrooms everywhere, became a home away from home for some reporters.

Cliff Dektar, a former police reporter, heard this story: One newsman, thrown out of the house by his wife, was walking through City Hall in his pajamas one morning when he was stopped by a young cop. Asked what he was doing, the newsman responded with some indignation, "I live here." He was escorted to the watch commander, an older cop who glanced up from his work and said, "Oh, he lives here."

In 1955, the LAPD left Central Headquarters and City Hall for its current location on Los Angeles Street. It was later named for Police Chief William Parker.

The building became a familiar sight to viewers of "Dragnet" and other TV shows, and occasionally made the news itself, as when demonstrators attacked it during the 1992 riots.

It was even the focus of an artistic hubbub in 1955 when "Family Group," a modernistic sculpture, was unveiled nearby. Surveying the sculpture's four characters, whose planetary origin was unclear, one city councilman complained, "No eyes, no nose, no ears."

"Family Group" stayed, but whether it will make the move to the new headquarters has not been revealed.

Nor have officials said if the building will also be called Parker Center.

One thing's for sure, though: Security is a lot tighter than it was in Grover's day.

Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote that the new 11-story, 500,000-square-foot building "features a window arrangement on its longest facade, along Spring Street, whose irregular pattern is meant to thwart snipers hiding inside the offices of this very newspaper."

No offense to The Times; the LAPD building just happens to be across the street. Snipers aside, the presence of the police headquarters should lead to a reduction in another crime that is endemic among reporters: jaywalking.


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