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Walking Tour: LAPD Headquarters

October 29, 2009

From top: Memorial wall with LA City Hall backdrop; succulent-planted tiers; Peter Shelton's enigmatic public art

It seemed like it took a long, long time but when the new LAPD headquarters was finally unveiled this month, it was both a huge surprise and relief for me. Since the LA Times is across the street from the new HQ I was afraid it would be another forbidding monolith like the hulking, gray ‘Death Star’ that is the LADOT building a block away, and that I’d have to face that architectural oppressor each day as I walked into work. Boy, was I wrong. The LAPD headquarters are surrounded by open, planted areas, interesting landscaping features and some very intriguing public art. I really love it and can only see it getting better as the garden matures and fills in. Oh, yes, the building(s) are very interesting too, not the dark behemoth I expected at all and actually quite open — in a guarded sort of way. The Times’ architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, pegs it as a ‘neighborly’ and describes how decisions related to security affected the final design of both the buildings and the surrounding grounds. Read his review here. To take a quick walking tour of my favorite areas of the grounds, turn the page…


Beastly, beautiful, or a combination of both?

I’m starting with the latest addition to the HQ, the sculptures by Peter Shelton. An award-winning LA-based artist with a large body of work in public and private collections, these pieces are provoking strong reactions (“cow splat”?, really, Chief Bratton?). I remember feeling very excited when the trucks pulled up with these resting on their beds, wondering what they were and how they would fit into the scheme across Spring Street. Situated on stone platforms that run along the street, the sculptures command one’s attention. On each end there are tall, spindly, headless giraffe-like creatures; Shelton has referred to them as monkey and camel-derived, but to me they seem like sentries. Is the fact they are without heads, and therefore most senses, significant? Between these leggy guardians are six very bulky forms that suggest, in no particular order, a lump, a bump, a huge male gorilla, a bison, a fallen amputee-bull and a pleading corpulent man. All are bronze with a gorgeous black patina. What all of these pieces are saying as a group, I haven’t arrived at yet. But I love each of them and enjoy seeing them each morning. Their massive, bulbous shapes seem both friendly and foreboding at once. For more details on the sculptures, and other public art, see The Times’ Culture Monster piece here.


View from First Street

On the First Street side of the HQ block there’s a triangular open plaza set off by low raised tiers containing a variety of plant materials, mostly succulents.


Rows of succulent beds and grasses lead up steps to the entrance

These raised, stepped tiers are separated by paths of decomposed granite. The succulents are grouped in interesting and contrasting color combinations. Tiny, smooth pebbles act as a mulch. Other tiers contain long, low grasses that move this way and that, creating a very textural mat. Walking between these tiers I can’t help but revel in the contrasts in both foliage type and color. Have I ever mentioned how much I love succulents? Seeing so many of my favorites in one place, and so close to the office, really makes me feel good. I can now treat myself to a break during the day and enjoy many of the same plants I love and have at home at the Rancho.


Water feature's glassy surface; carefully placed river rock pebbles

Also on this side of the complex is a water feature that is both controlled waterfall and security barrier. Running the full length of the widest part of the plaza, it’s a mirror-smooth-surfaced long plane. A look into the water allows you to see that flat, round, river rock pebbles have been carefully placed on their sides just under the surface. The water feature, combined with the planted, tiered rows, leads your eye to another interesting feature elevated between the main structures.


Memorial names wall; curved, rusted steel seating behind

The memorial wall contains 2,000 brass plates that erratically jut out, creating the visual effect of a pulsing brick wall. 202 of these plates are etched with the names of LAPD officers killed in the line of duty. It’s a very striking piece of sculpture and 0n the morning I took these pictures an awards ceremony had just ended and award recipients were using the wall as a photo backdrop (see top picture). Behind the wall is circular bench structure made of thick, rusted steel. It creates an enclosure that would be a great meeting place, and features a lone tree planted in the center.


The plantings are varied and the foliage mix engages the eye

One of the most successful parts of the landscape at the new HQ are the planted beds. I really enjoy the mix of colors, foliage types, and the interaction between low ground covers, shrubs, succulents and trees. One of the most exciting sights for me when the obscuring construction barriers came down was seeing that a grove of palo verde trees had been planted on the Spring Street side, across from The Times. I can hardly wait for their next blooming season to arrive, when they’ll all be exploding in clouds of bright yellow flowers! There’re rosemary bushes planted on the 2nd Street side of the complex, olive trees in huge, boxy containers facing 1st Street and a stand of 16 palm trees on Spring Street, at the end of the HQ’s most controversial feature: nearly an acre of lawn.


Controversial lawn, nearly an acre of it, faces The Times building

What’s so controversial about grass, you ask? Well, there’s the ongoing drought in California, and the new headquarters is supposed to be a model of sustainable design put into action. The Times’ dry garden expert, Emily Green, wrote a piece about the lawn that explains the garden designer’s intentions: read it here. So far, I see people using the lawn as a place for dog walking, mostly. I love the lawn, myself, as for a while there was talk of creating a park on the site and the idea of a park being across the street from work was very appealing. Later, when I learned that the new police headquarters was planned, I thought the park dream had been dashed. Instead we now have both a park and police in the neighborhood. But, we’ve also got more than that, because we have beauty and nature and art, all available for viewing and enjoying on those days when things get harried and stressful around the office. And, all I have to do is step outside.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen permalink
    October 31, 2009 2:34 pm

    Reubin: After many months of admiring your landscaping at Rancho Reubidoux, my walking partner and I stopped a week ago Friday to take some pictures. Fortunately for us Paul was out watering and was kind enough to give us a tour of the garden – what fun! I spent the entire time gushing over everthing. So simple, so pleasing to the eye, so tranquil. Loved your reuse of building materials, found objects, cool retro stuff. I got my pictures and will probably be back to take more as I am in the early stages of redoing my front yard on the Wood Streets.

    Also, loving your blog and will be revisiting it plus passing it on to friends.

  2. Denise permalink
    October 31, 2009 8:03 pm

    I’ve gotta get downtown to see this. The ‘Campfire’ crassula (?) in the second photo is blooming in my garden too, a great plant. As far as the acre of grass, in park-deprived downtown LA the expanse of lawn seems appropriate, especially considering the overall water-wise design. Looks like a lot of DG was used for paths. Thanks for the photos!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      October 31, 2009 9:06 pm

      Hi, Denise… i couldn’t agree with you more about the lawn. The overall park-like effect is a welcome respite from all the concrete and parking lots. Thanks for reading the blog!


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