The dilapidated and boarded-up Lincoln Heights Jail—a five-story, 229,000-square-foot art deco and modernist complex adjacent to the Los Angeles River—is on the verge of transformation as L.A. City Council officials prepare to implement redevelopment plans for the three-acre site.
Sandwiched between Downtown Los Angeles and the city’s economically-stressed Eastside neighborhoods, the shuttered complex is one of the city’s most prominent historic landmarks. The triangular site sits in the city’s Cleantech Corridor and is written into the Cornfields Arroyo Seco specific plan as well. Those designations help poise the site for the type of high-end industrial redevelopment that is currently remaking the nearby Arts District while also threatening nearby communities with displacement.
The jail was built in 1927 and was designed to hold 625 prisoners, though by the 1950s, it imprisoned more than 2,000 individuals, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy. Because of overcrowding, it was expanded in 1953 with a modernist wing. The jail has played an important role in the city’s history, holding individuals arrested during the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 and the Watts Riots of 1965, for example. Individuals who had been arrested over suspicions regarding their sexual orientation were also imprisoned at the Lincoln Heights jail, which even contained a separate wing dedicated to incarcerating gay prisoners. The jail was decommissioned in 1965 and became vacant in 2014.
Currently, developers CIM Group, WORKS, and Lincoln Property Company are each vying for the opportunity to remake the site.
Developer CIM Group has proposed redeveloping the site as a mixed-use district called “The Linc” containing offices, housing—including multifamily and low-income units—retail shops, restaurants, and a community garden. The proposal calls for converting the art deco portion of the structure into a hotel with a rooftop restaurant. The 1953 addition would be converted to residential use while a triangular structure on the far end of the site will contain a single story of retail programming.
Nonprofit housing developer WORKS—Women Organizing Resources Knowledge and Service—is looking to re-envision the site as a community-driven enterprise called “Las Alturas.” The complex would include 122 housing units, including 66 permanent supportive housing and 47 moderate-income homes. The proposed complex would also include a community center, child care facilities, theater, and generously-landscaped areas designed by Mia Lehrer + Associates (MLA). Mia Lehrer, principal at MLA explained to The Architect’s Newspaper that the WORKS-led proposal represented “the kind of community-focused investor you imagine exists but you don’t get meet very often,” adding that the design team included partnerships with Cal Poly Pomona’s agriculture program, and architects Omgivning and Killefer Flammang Architects.
A third proposal by Lincoln Property Company, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, and Fifteen Group is also on the table. That scheme—called the Lincoln Heights Makers District—calls for a commercial- and manufacturing-focused district containing four acres of open space. The plan includes 268,250 square feet of residential space, including an affordable housing component; 220,000 square feet of commercial space; and 57,000 square feet of manufacturing and retail spaces. The designers envision repurposing the existing jail facility as a manufacturing center with associated housing and commercial spaces located alongside.
The project has been proposed by the developer as part of a larger scheme that includes an adjacent, privately-owned 3.2-acre site that will contain live/work spaces. The proposal would include connections to the L.A. River as well as outdoor community-oriented leisure and work spaces.
The schemes are currently being vetted by the City’s economic development committee before heading to the full City Council for consideration. The City Council is expected to decide on the proposals as soon as this fall.