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In Past Life, State Building Footprint was a Park and a Homeless Shelter

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, April 11, 2008, at 06:35PM
State Board Ed Fuentes

Skaters make use of the closed off footprint of the old, old State Building across the street from City Hall.

Situated across Spring street from City Hall, the foundations of the old State Building have made for a fertile source of conversation for Downtown residents and workers. The office building, a WPA project, was torn down in 1976, but an underground parking structure and the ground floor were left intact.

Today the site is a fenced-off eyesore that only sees use when skateboard-wielding kids climb over the fence and make use of the bare concrete and marble. Even in the time since the building was torn down, though, the site has had an interesting history.

The State Building was completed in 1931 at a cost of more than $2 million. It was dedicated the day before the opening of the 1932 Olympics in a ceremony that featured Amelia Earhart.

In 1960 the state opened its spartan new offices across 1st street. That building was just torn down last year.

The 1931 building was damaged in the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, and in May of 1973 the state authorized an "orderly evacuation" after testing found the building unsafe. The empty building was torn down in early 1976. The state intended to use the site to build a new office structure, but agreed to let the building's foundation see use as a temporary park in the interim.

A June 1978 Times photo spread noted that

Trees, benches and drinking fountains are appearing where state officials used to conduct business ... above ground the addition of trees in pots, benches, and other conveniences is enabling downtown workers to relax, eat lunch or even nap in the comfort of one of northern downtown's only public parks.

Accompanying photos showed folks lounging on grass on the 1st street side of the property.

A plan for the state's Department of Rehabilitation to use the site as a business training facility for severely handicapped persons was scrapped in 1979.

In 1984 the site become a holiday "Tent City", as homeless activist Ted Hayes created an officially-permitted homeless encampment. Hayes would later be behind Dome Village, another housing project on the south side of Downtown. The seasonal Civic Center encampment was also known as Justiceville, and in 1986 the centerpiece of the encampment was a 5,000 sq. foot circus tent. Hayes raised the money each year for the $500,000 in liability insurance the state required for the use of the site.

Several development plans for the site were proposed over the years. In 1986 the County, part owner of the site, put out a request for proposals for a roughly 20-story office building that would be constructed on the site.

Twenty years later, the 1931 foundation remains, residents and workers don't get a park, and the homeless don't get a shelter. Somehow it seems like there may have been better options along the way.

Various Times articles were used in assembling this story.

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