Historic Skid Row Firehouse to Become Youth Arts Center

The city is working on plans to turn a 1910 firehouse on Fifth Street into a center offering art programs for kids. The firehouse, which was used in Ghostbusters and other films, has fallen into disrepair. 
photo by Gary Leonard

You probably know Skid Row’s Firehouse No. 23 from the movie Ghostbusters. But 22 years after the plans for refurbishing the firehouse were approved, the former headquarters of the Los Angeles Fire Department once known as the “Taj Mahal” of firehouses for its ornate features and expensive imported materials, will soon become a Youth Arts Center in Skid Row.

Architecture firm Brooks + Scarpa is handling designs for the transformation of the three-story structure at 225 E. Fifth St., and the project is in the plan check phase, with the Department of Building and Safety evaluating the proposal. The first phase of the renovation will begin in February, and will include stripping worn paint, seismic upgrades and the completion of structural improvements. The second phase will include renovating the space. No timeline for an opening has been revealed.

The project is funded through Proposition K, which was approved by Los Angeles voters in 1996(!) to fund the acquisition, improvement, construction and maintenance of city parks, recreation facilities and other youth-oriented spaces. The measure earmarked money for 183 projects, including Firehouse No. 23’s transition into a youth arts center. Prop. K allocates $25 million annually to such projects, which range from renovated sports fields to street lighting improvements. The projects must be finished by 2026. Of the original 183 projects, 60 remain to be completed.

Renderings by Brooks + Scarpa show an effort to hold on to some of the historic features of the nearly 100-year-old firehouse. 
image courtesy Brooks + Scarpa

Plans call for a groundbreaking as soon as February, but just as things appear ready to roll, opposition has risen with charges that the art center for low-income children shortchanges the adults in Skid Row who could benefit from an artistic outlet.

What is known is that the project will offer programming and arts classes for children ages 3 to 17. The Department of Cultural Affairs will oversee the facility. Leslie Thomas, Community Arts Division Director for the Department of Cultural Affairs, said that he is interested in developing a program based on intergenerational arts where different age groups work together.

As plans move forward, some are questioning the need for a youth arts center in Skid Row. Questions were raised as to whether the property could also function as an arts space for adults.

Theresa Hwang, a member of the Local Volunteer Neighborhood Oversight Committee, a civilian board created through Prop K to oversee the project, questioned city staff on whether a split use, with one part focusing on youth programming, and another offering something akin to “community programming,” would be feasible.

Deputy City Attorney Gonzalez-Kimbrough said, “The design for that youth programming would hopefully take into account that when it’s not being used for youth, that it would also be used for the local community.”

According to statistics provided by the city, 200,370 children attend school within a five-mile radius of the firehouse. A meeting to further discuss the programming is tentatively set for mid-January. Project backers said they hope to have neighborhood children and parents attend.