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Criminal Courts Site Has Housed Buildings Big and Little

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, April 05, 2011, at 03:06PM
City Hall and Surroundings Pettit's Studio / Library of Congress

Crop from 1946 panorama showing City Hall and surrounding buildings, with a 1945 bungalow on the site of today's Criminal Courts Building.

Over the weekend, a 1946 photo of City Hall and its surrounding buildings caught my eye.

Pictured around the 1928 structure are the county's Hall of Justice, the 1936 federal courthouse and post office, the 1907 International Bank Building—which shared a block with City Hall into the 1950s—and the 1911 county Hall of Records, torn down in the 1970s.

In the foreground, though, and unlabeled in the panorama, is a simple one-story building sitting on a prime piece of real estate at Broadway and Temple, today the site of the 1972 Criminal Courts Building.

That piece of land has actually been central to the county's justice system since 1891, when a four-story red sandstone courthouse was opened on the site. Set back from the street by a landscaped lawn and granite retaining walls, the iconic building featured a 200-foot-tall clock tower.

Time took its toll, though, and a 1933 earthquake spelled doom for the aging landmark. The clock tower was removed first, and by 1935 demolition of the structure itself was underway.

The lawns, retaining walls and granite stairs stayed, though, creating a Civic Center park that abutted the Hall of Records. On the Broadway side stood a statue to Stephen M. White, the "Father of the Los Angeles Harbor."

The site stayed that way for roughly a decade. A tunnel under the site that had once run from the courthouse to the City Jail was temporary used for storage, but that plan was abandoned when the records became moldy.

It was in 1945 that the building pictured was added to the site. The $28,000 bungalow was a hotel for servicemen waiting to be shipped out, and was operated as a B'nai B'rith Hospitality House.

After the war the building turned into Los Angeles' oddest courtroom when Mayor Fletcher Bowron evicted the county from the 10th floor of City Hall. The county gave the structure a $60,000 remodel before moving in on November 6, 1946.

More bungalows were added to the site as the county struggled to find space for a new courthouse.

In 1958 those court rooms were likely moved into the new $24 million, two-block -long facility the county opened in 1958 at 1st and Grand.

Doors were opened at the new Criminal Courts Building, now known as the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, in 1972.

That same year, crews began the process of tearing down the 1911 Hall of Records, whose diagonal stance still reflected the street grid that had been transformed for City Hall. The last wall came down in July of 1973.

The statue of White had been moved more than a decade earlier. Today it sits in San Pedro, near the harbor that White helped create.

While the imposing precast concrete Criminal Courts Building may have little connection to either the 1891 sandstone building or the mid-century bungalows, there is still one touch of history on the site: Tucked away at the corner of Temple and Spring is the granite cornerstone laid for the old courthouse on April 26, 1881.


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