Los Angeles City Jail Where Al Capone Once Bunked Set for Makeover

Built for $5 million in 1927, it held thousands of scofflaws, drunks, petty thieves and murderers throughout its more than 34 years as a 'gray bar motel'

A dingy former Los Angeles city jail, once home to Al Capone, the site of numerous film and TV shoots and the subject of urban legend, is set for a makeover as city officials are asking developers for ideas on how to revamp it.

City officials published a notice seeking input for the Lincoln Heights Jail, a 24,000-square foot Art Deco-style building wedged between the LA River and West Avenue 19 north of downtown. Interested developers are expected to respond with ideas by May 13.

Built for $5 million in 1927, it held thousands of scofflaws, drunks, petty thieves and murderers throughout its more than 34 years as a "gray bar motel."

Deirdre Capone is all for the idea of remaking a building where her grand uncle once bunked while being processed out of the prison system after serving time on his now infamous tax evasion conviction.

"I kinda like some of that old stuff restored," said Deirdre Capone, who wrote, "Uncle Al Capone — The Untold Story from Inside His Family." "When I was a kid it was, 'George Washington was here. George Washington visited there,'" she said. "Today, it's, 'Al Capone lived here. Al Capone stopped here.'

"Maybe I'll come and visit him."

The building, described by then-LA County Undersheriff James Downey in a 1967 Van Nuys Valley News article as a "warehouse with bars on the windows," has long been eyed for redevelopment. A state prison, trade technical high school, live-work lofts, and even a "jail-to-table" urban rooftop garden were among the ideas.

But its storied history, city landmark status, and heavy neglect make it a tough sell, said Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy.

A scene in "LA Confidential" was shot there dramatizing an incident dubbed "Bloody Christmas" when LA police officers assaulted Latinos in 1951.

During World War II, police jailed Zoot Suit rioters there after violence broke out between U.S. sailors, Marines and Latinos, recognizable in their oversized "zoot suits" matching fedoras and pointy shoes.

Police also jailed people "over suspicions regarding their sexual orientation," leading to the creation of a separate wing for gay prisoners, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy.

By the early 1950s the inmate population swelled to 2,800 inmates, prompting a jail expansion in 1951.

The jail was decommissioned in 1965 when city and county officials determined it would be more cost effective to close it and place inmates in the nearby county jail.

It sat in limbo for years as officials struggled with how to reuse it. In the years after the jail closed it was used for courtrooms and overflow detention. It had one tenant for a brief period in 1970, a sausage maker that leased out the kitchen, according to the Valley News.

Today, ghost hunters claim they can hear the echoes from the past while walking through its cellblocks.

"This place is one of my favorite places," said Rob Wlodarski, a paranormal investigator, in a video about the Lincoln Heights Jail. "We've heard doors slam. We have had females scream. We've seen at least three apparitions of a guard we call Lady in White. There isn't a time that we've come in here that we didn't have something happen."

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