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AirTalk asks: What should the LA Civic Center look like?

A Lego version of Los Angeles City Hall stands as part of Jorge Parra Jr.'s Lego version of LA, which spans about eight by nine feet.
A Lego version of Los Angeles City Hall stands as part of Jorge Parra Jr.'s Lego version of LA, which spans about eight by nine feet.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Los Angeles City Councilmembers recently voted unanimously to approve the construction of a $483 million office tower at the site currently occupied by the Parker Center, which once housed the Los Angeles Police Department.

The move is an initial step in re-imagining and, eventually, recreating the Los Angeles Civic Center Area in downtown, which encompasses ten city blocks and is bordered by Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and the Historic Core. Councilmembers also approved the Civic Center Master Plan (CCMP), drawn up by Councilman Jose Huizar, that lays out a vision for what the Civic Center might look like one day -- a bustling business and residential hub with multi-purpose buildings for commercial, residential, and office use. Councilman Huizar told AirTalk's Larry Mantle that with lots of new construction happening in downtown, the time is right to re-envision the Civic Center area, which he says basically shuts down at close of business every day.

"We want to turn this into a 24-hour area where it doesn’t only have activity during the day with people who want to have government service, etc, but also have some residential activity and some retail activity so this space doesn’t go dark at night, and that’s something that we see for all of downtown Los Angeles."

Huizar says in addition to realizing that vision, the CCMP would free up city money that's currently being used to pay off some of the buildings the city uses to house its employees, like City Hall East and City Hall South. He says it would also consolidate many of the offices for government services that are currently scattered throughout the Civic Center area, making it much easier for anyone with government business to get where they're going.

Some conservationists wanted to see the Parker Center preserved as a historic building, something the city's Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted unanimously against in February. Critics argue it is a nod to the LAPD’s racist past and should be demolished. Advocates for the Little Tokyo neighborhood are welcoming the plan as a way to open their community back up to downtown, something Huizar says is a main focus of his plan.

"The current Civic Center was built in such a way that its back is against areas like Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and El Pueblo." We want to open this up and make it more accessible.”

Built in 1975, the Triforium sits atop the Los Angeles Mall at the corner of Main and Temple in Downtown Los Angeles
Built in 1975, the Triforium sits atop the Los Angeles Mall at the corner of Main and Temple in Downtown Los Angeles
Frederick Dennstedt/Flickr Creative Commons

One structure in the Civic Center that looks like it will be preserved is the Triforium, something you've probably seen in downtown L.A. and, if you didn't already know, probably wondered what it was. Built in 1975, the structure has been dark an unused for the majority of its existence. Land use consultant and former L.A. City Planner Tanner Blackman wants to change that.

“The Triforium is the world’s first poly-phonoptic sculpture, meaning it is composed of light and sound as well as the 60 tons and six stories of lights and glass and concrete," says Blackman, who is now part of a coalition to save the structure, called 'The Triforium Project,' which just this year received a $100,000 grant to help reactivate the Triforium and actually keep it running this time.

"We think it’s a lovely piece of civic art that, unfortunately has been mostly dark in its 41 years because it was sort of technologically ahead of its time."

Blackman says the sculpture is run by a small bank of computers underneath the L.A. Mall and that he and his group plan to use the money to figure out an efficient, cost-effective way to keep it lit up.

"We believe that we could run all of the lights and sound and everything on something about the size of an iPhone today.”

As of right now, from a legislative perspective, CCMP is largely symbolic and represents Councilman Huizar’s vision for what the Civic Center area should look like. The Parker Center is the only building in the CCMP for which the city has done an environmental impact report (EIR), so the other buildings like the L.A. Mall and City Halls East and South would also need to go through the city before any concrete plans are made to renovate or demolish those buildings.

What would you like to see done with the L.A. Civic Center? Do you think the focus should be more on preserving the Los Angeles history or revamping the area to represent modern L.A.? Here's what some of our listeners said:

John in Downtown L.A.

"More of a recreational center would be nice. More shopping areas and things to do like that. Similar to what the Staples Center did, with more robust businesses nearby. LA also has the growing homeless problem, so they'll have to keep that in mind if it expands."

Ellen in Mt. Washington

"I spend a lot of my time in downtown L.A. and I also really value the fact that we have public transportation, but the traffic situation has really become unbearable in a lot of these communities that lead into and around downtown Los Angeles, based on new residential development. My concern is that the traffic situation won’t be addressed. I don’t feel like we have the road system that could really support getting in and out of there.”


Jose Huizar, Los Angeles City Councilmember representing District 14, which includes Downtown and Northeast Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and El Sereno; he tweets @josehuizar

Tanner Blackman, partner at L.A.-based Kindel Gagan Public Affairs Advocacy and a member of The Triforium Project, a coalition seeking to preserve and restore The Triforeum in L.A.’s Civic Center; he’s also a former L.A. City Planner and planning director for Councilman Huizar; he tweets @tannerblackman