BY LUCY GUANUNA
HIGHLAND PARK — The residents of Highland Park may one day be able to fight City Hall without having to travel Downtown. After a decade of delays and a legal battle, a plan to convert a former bank building on Figueroa into Highland Park City Council is once again moving ahead.
A motion introduced by First District Councilman Gil Cedillo earlier this year would allocate $500,000 to start planning the conversion of the vacant, two-story Renaissance Revival at the corner of Figueroa and Avenue 56 into a government resource center. It so happens that the robust 1920s-era brick and concrete structure – a city historic landmark – was designed by the same architectural firm that worked on the iconic L.A. City Hall as well as Union Station.
The 11,500-square-foot structure, which is owned by the City of Los Angeles and is mostly used for film shoots, features a granite and marble interior and was formerly home to the Highland Park branch of the Security Trust & Savings Bank.
Cedillo introduced a motion in May asking city staff to amend the mayor’s proposed budget for 2014-2015, to include $500,000 to cover the design costs of the new multi-year project, which would include the project scope, timeline and budget. Plans for what’s been called the Highland Park City Hall proejct remain conceptual, but Cedillo’s office is awaiting a report from the Budget and Finance Committee that will determine the funding of the project, said Cedillo’s spokesperson, Louis Reyes.
Reyes said the building, which is located across the street from the Council District 1 field office, needs to be cleaned up and brought up to code and the $500,000 requested, would be the first step to begin the project.
The effort to convert the former bank building into the Highland Park City Hall began a decade ago under former Councilman Ed Reyes. The city offered to buy the building in 2004 for $1.6 million but the owner refused, prompting the city to begin the process of taking control of the property through eminent domain. That triggered a lawsuit that was resolved in 2009 when the city signed off on a $750,000 settlement, according to city documents.
Lucy Guanuna has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.