LANDMARK: Historic downtown building, damaged by the Northridge Earthquake and abandoned, is getting a $231M renovation and a new life. Cloaked in shadows, the bars of the jail cell that once housed Charles Manson slide open with a rumble that echoes eerily across the vastness of the abandoned Hall of Justice. At the entrance of the decrepit building in downtown Los Angeles, a grand staircase leads up to a foyer with marble walls, stately columns and gilded ceilings. All are grimy from neglect - but not for much longer. The Hall is poised to begin a $231 million renovation this month, nearly 17 years after it was forced to shut down due to damage from the Northridge Earthquake. Contractors Clark Construction Group and AC Martin Partners will begin the painstaking work of restoring the structural integrity of a landmark that opened in 1925, and transforming it into a modern-day office space that also maintains some nods to the past. The Hall saw its share of history while housing the headquarters of the sheriff, district attorney, public defender, coroner and Superior Court for nearly 70 years, since the time Model T Fords rumbled down the streets of Los Angeles. The autopsies of Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were conducted at the Hall, as were the trials of Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Richard "The Nightstalker" Ramirez and actor Robert Mitchum also were behind bars there. When daredevil Evel Knievel was arrested on assault charges, he ordered a fleet of limousines to drive up to the Hall and pick him up, as well as about 20 other inmates being released on the same day. "We can't go back in time and be a part of that anymore, but the fact that the building has those stories, and you can walk through it, it's as close as you're going to get to re-creating history," said Alicia Ramos, who oversees the renovation project for the county Department of Public Works.
In addition to its place in history and practical use as a headquarters, it is a fiscally responsible project. Most of the renovation costs will be offset by the termination of other property lease obligations of the county agencies that will move into the structure, as well as currently lowered construction costs resulting from the slow economy. This move will place Sheriff Baca and Sheriff's Department headquarters back in the heart of Los Angeles County and the Civic Center, within walking distance of the county Hall of Administration, federal and state courts, Los Angeles City Hall, other important governmental offices and Metro transportation. It is also nearby key cultural centers, including the Music Center, the Disney Concert Hall, LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument