I first learned about the Los Angeles Police Museum from Joan Renner, a writer, lecturer, and social historian with expertise in the area of historic Los Angeles crime. I met Joan on Esotouric’s Eastside Babylon tour and during one of our conversations she mentioned her volunteer efforts at the museum to preserve LAPD history. Since I’d never been to that museum before, she piqued my interest.
Well, it took me several years, but I finally visited the museum. Needless to say, I was really taken by this unique repository of LA and law enforcement history. In fact, I intended to return within several weeks to gather more information for this article. Unfortunately, my schedule didn’t cooperate, I never made it back to the museum and this post was delayed for quite some time. That is, until now.
The Los Angeles Police Museum is housed in the Highland Park Police Station, which was built in 1925 in the Renaissance Revival Style. After the station was deactivated in 1983 due to seismic problems, it sat vacant and suffered significant damage from vandalism, arson and water leaks. The building was restored by the Los Angeles Police Historical Society to house its museum and administrative offices and reopened in 2001. It’s now the city’s longest surviving police station.
I visited the museum on a Friday morning and pretty much had the place to myself. While you can experience the exhibits just by wandering around the two-story building, I opted to take the self-guided audio tour, which directed me from station to station and provided a significant amount of additional background information not available to those just relying upon the posted signage.
From the moment you enter the museum you are surrounded by Los Angeles history. Photographs line the entry hall depicting past members of the police force, civic leadership, department equipment and facilities. Each image tells a story and sheds light on some facet of LAPD history.
As I explored the museum, I was particularly drawn to examples of equipment used by the LA police department in days gone by. For example, the museum has an early callbox that officers used to check-in with City Hall or the local division station while walking foot-beats or manning fixed posts. I also loved seeing the camera gear used to take mug shots of suspects during the booking process.
If you expect to find jail cells in a police station, as I did, you won’t be disappointed. About a quarter of the first floor is dedicated to the station’s cellblock, which among other things is the brightest space in the station. I found that interesting, since I don’t associate ample natural light with jails. In fact, I’d be surprised if modern jails and prisons afford their occupants as much natural light as this outdated facility.
As for the cells themselves, each is outfitted with a single bed, a toilet and a mattress. Spare but functional. If you want to get a feel for what it was like to be locked up inside – no problem. The doors are all kept open, so you can step inside and spend a few moments behind bars.
Other museum highlights are the uniform and badge collection, which includes items dating to the beginning of the LAPD, and the vehicle collection, which consists of retired police cars, motorcycles, a helicopter and an assortment of other law enforcement vehicles.
There is a lot more I could share about my visit, but I want to leave plenty for you to experience on your own. If you’re fascinated by law enforcement history and technology, as well as infamous crimes from LA’s past, such as the 1997 holdup of the North Hollywood Bank of America, you’ll find the Los Angeles Police Museum well worth a visit.
A Final Thought
Although the museum does a good job of preserving numerous facets of departmental history, the story it tells is only partially complete. This is a police force after all, that has seen more than its fair share of scandal over the years and has made many within the city feel neither protected nor served.
While it’s difficult for any institution to look at itself with a critical eye, addressing its failings head-on would go a long way towards making this a really great museum. It might also serve as a vehicle for the LAPD to forge closer ties with those communities within the city that have felt neglected or victimized by its officers. Perhaps as the institution evolves it will tell a broader, more inclusive story, thereby enabling the museum to more fully live up to its stated mission, which is “…to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.”
Where: 6045 York Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90042
Monday through Friday 10:00am to 4:00 pm
Third Saturday of the Month 9:00 am to 3:00 pm
Museum Admission Fees:
General (ages 13 to 61) $8.00
Seniors (62+) $7.00
Children (12 and younger) Free