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Proposed Courthouse Would Create Uncertain Future for Historic Spring Street Structure

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, November 04, 2011, at 10:48AM
Spring Street Federal Courthouse California Historical Society / USC Digital Archives

Opened in January 1939, the Federal Building on Spring Street originally housed a post office, courtrooms and offices for multiple government agencies.

Shifting plans for a proposed new federal courthouse at 1st and Broadway have created an uncertain future for one of the court's current homes, the 1939 Federal Building at 312 N. Spring.

At a congressional hearing this morning, representatives of the judiciary and the agency charged with constructing federal facilities defended plans for the proposed $400-million courthouse, which would include 24 courtrooms and 32 judges' chambers. Rep. Jeff Denham scheduled the hearing after targeting the project as a "prime example of government waste."

"This is probably the last building that will ever be built in Los Angeles," said U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow, who pressed the need to relieve security and space concerns in the court's current configuration, which is split between Spring Street and the 1991 Edward R. Roybal Federal Building on Temple.

"It seems like we've studied ever combination and permutation" of existing and new space, said Robert Peck, a commissioner with the General Services Administration. "GSA is ready to move forward with this project."

The Spring Street courthouse would be emptied, and it would be years before the government is able to determine whether it makes sense for it to reuse the building for its own purposes.

"We'll either find that we can efficiently renovate the building ... or we will declare it surplus," said Peck.

If a renovation were to take place, space in the building would be used to house agencies currently in leased space around the city. Historic courtrooms could be used for grand juries and for training space.

Costs of such a project would not be known until 2016 or 2017, after the new courthouse has been completed and a study of the building has been done. The historic structure is "riddled with asbestos," Morrow said, and is in need of a seismic retrofit.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Washington D.C., expressed her fears that the Spring Street courthouse would wind up sitting empty. Her district includes the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, which has sat empty since a modern annex was opened in 2006.

"It makes you want to cry to go into a building that no one thought would ever be abandoned," said Prettyman.

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