Old Central Police Station

For nearly 60 years, the Los Angeles Central Police Station and City Jail was located between Broadway and Hill streets at 318 West First Street.

The three story with basement Richardsonian Romanesque sandstone structure was designed in October 1895 by the city’s architect, Superintendent of Buildings Charles L. Strange.

First glimpse of the new police headquarters building, 10/13/1895. Los Angeles Herald Sun Times.

Another drawing of the New Central police station and jail. 1/1/1896 LAT.

It consisted of two connected structures connected by an upper passage that came to be known as the ‘bridge of sighs.” The front part of the building accommodated the detectives’ offices and other police quarters on the high-ceilinged first floor as well as an emergency receiving hospital. Upstairs were municipal courtrooms, judge’s chambers and related offices.

The entire rear portion housed the city jail, replacing an inadequate and unsanitary facility on Second St. between Spring and Broadway (which had replaced the 1881 1-story adobe jail on Spring Street, later occupied by the Phillips Block). There were 12 2-tiered cells on each side of a central hallway, 2 “dark (solitary confinement) cells, the jail kitchen and a dining room for the inmates. There was a separate ward for women prisoners. The full basement held the booking office, the lost property room, the drunk tank and stables for horses. Two arched doorways on First Street led back to the jail.

An entrance to the old city jail on Second St. was exposed in 1934 with the demolition of the Bryson Block. LAPL.

 

Old Central when it was new central and a glimpse of adjacent Bunker Hill. USC digital.

 

 

The alley between Old Central police station (left) and the City Jail. View is looking east toward S. Broadway. LAPL.

Horse-drawn patrol wagons entered the facility via a wide entryway at the far east side of the front building, leading to the alley courtyard where prisoners were unloaded. A hand-cranked turntable allowed the wagons to turn around and exit in the narrow space. Horse-drawn patrol wagons gave way to electric vehicles and later gas-powered cars.

Excavation for the project got underway by November 1895. Completion took longer than expected, but the public finally got a chance to tour the new facility on August 19, 1896.

8/19/1896. LA Evening Express.

Though state of the art for the time, like many municipal buildings in Los Angeles, the city quickly outgrew the space.

The municipal courts moved out in the 1920s, relocating to the Hall of Justice (1926) and the second-floor space was converted to other uses, including the LAPD’s renowned crime lab.

Old Central looking southwest toward Hill St. c. 1920. UCLA digital.

The hospital facility was the city’s main police emergency receiving hospital for over 30 years, until the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital opened on September 1, 1927 at 1337 Georgia Street near Pico. The facility in Old Central remained in use for a time as a branch hospital for minor emergency cases.

In the summer of 1930, Police Chief Steckel and executive officers began moving to what was initially intended to be temporary quarters in the new City Hall, in the northwest wing of the Temple Street entrance. The detective units eventually moved over and the traffic division (then headed by ex-chief Davis) moved into the detective’s offices at Old Central. The booking office and records bureau also remained at Old Central.

Old Central in 1936 after the top half of the facade was modernized. LAPL.

The jail soon became overcrowded and unsanitary conditions prevailed. From 1928 to 1931 the city rented space in the County Jail in the Hall of Justice for women prisoners to create more room.

On December 29, 1931, a new, larger jail opened at Lincoln Heights as the main city jail, taking the overflow from Old Central.

The LA City Jail in Lincoln Heights. LAPL.

 

In 1933, the City Health Inspector called (not for the first time) for the old city jail at Old Central to be condemned as unfit to occupy. In April, LAPD indeed cleared out the jail, which had been damaged in the March 10, 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, transfering its inmates to Lincoln Heights.

600 LAPD personnel continued to report to Old Central, however. The jail was still used for police “show ups” where crime victims came to identify suspected perpetrators, although this involved transporting inmates back and forth from Lincoln Heights. In October the Police Commission called for the building to be demolished. Instead, it was renovated and in April 1934, 94 felony prisoners (including those held on suspicion of robbery awaiting potential “show up” identification) were transferred from Lincoln Heights back to Old Central.

5/24/1939 LAT.

9/2/1945 LAT.

In 1939, the Police Commission again called for Old Central to be demolished as a slum but nothing came of it.  In September 1945, a State Assembly committee on city and county jails toured the jail and was appalled by the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, which one member asserted could be compared to Buchenwald, the German concentration camp that had been liberated by US forces in April. They recomended that the building be torn down and the jail closed in the meantime. The jail remained in use for another 7 months, however. In April 1946, the now 50 year-old facility was finally vacated for good; 92 felony prisoners were transferred to Lincoln Heights and 90 misdemeanor inmates were moved to the County Jail.

Old Central in 1946 showing the newly abandoned jail. Looking southest across the intersection of S. Hill and First streets looking East.

In February 1949, work began on an new 5-story addition to the City Jail at Lincoln Heights, which was completed in September 1950. Old Central station itself continued to serve the LAPD. The Crime Lab still operated on the second floor. The vice squad periodically occupied quarters here from 1948 to 1954 at least. The former cells were used mainly for storage. The Lost Property department remained in the basement. In all, 25 officers were regularly reporting to Old Central in when the station finally closed in August 1955 and they, along with all central division units, were relocated to the new Police Administration Building (later Parker Center) down the street at East First and Los Angeles streets.

Color view of Old Central in its final days, 8/10/1956. Looking southeast across N. Broadway LAPL.

The State acquired the Old Central parcel for construction of a new state office building, a project that had been planned since August 1948. Demolition of the 1896 structure began in July 1956 and was completed by December.

Nearly completed demolition of Old Central 12/20/1956. Huntington Library.

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Notes

The Lincoln Heights jail was vacated in 1965.

In January 1967, the Police Administration Building was renamed Parker Center for long-serving chief William Parker, who died in office in 1966. A new Police headquarters opened at East First and South Main streets in 2009. In an incredibly stupid move, Parker Center was demolished in 2019.