History and Adaptive Reuse of the Old Police Headquarters

The historic Old Police Headquarters was designed and built in 1939 by master architects Charles and Edward Quale and Alberto Treganza.  It was a 100,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility that, for the first time, brought all police operations together under one roof.  An elegant 68-foot watch tower marked the entrance to the complex which featured five interconnected buildings ranging from one to three stories arranged in a rectangle around a large open-air paved courtyard.  The structures, which used to house the administration building, five courtrooms, a law library, crime lab, indoor shooting range, emergency hospital, 274-bed jail and large maintenance garage, reflected a range of architectural styles including Spanish Colonial, Pueblo Deco, Mediterranean, and Classic Revival.

By the mid-1950s the department had outgrown the space which subsequently underwent several modifications designed to enlarge its capacity, but it was abandoned in 1987 after the completion of a new police headquarters at Broadway and 14th.  A year later, despite the San Diego Unified Port District’s threat to demolish the historic complex which it owned, preservation supporters triumphed in getting it added to the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources.

In May 2008, Terramar Retail Centers negotiated a 40-year lease with the Port to rehabilitate the Old Police Headquarters into a vibrant shopping, dining and entertainment destination in the popular Seaport Village area. Terramar retained David Marshall, an historic architect and president of Heritage Architecture & Planning to identify the building elements that needed to be restored and reused to ensure the historic integrity of the Old Police Headquarters in its new incarnation.  Included among those elements are heavy carved wooden doors, ironwork, light fixtures, ceramic wall tiles, windows, 20 skylights, 27,500 clay roof tiles and 15,000 square feet of courtyard pavers.  Old cell block doors that marked the entrance to the tunnel where prisoners were escorted to their cells have been restored and the area will now serve as part of an on-site museum that will include several of the 5x8 jail cells that used to house two prisoners each.  Terramar also employed skilled craftsmen who used the finest materials to ensure that the architectural style and originality of design was maintained throughout the transformation process.  

All the non-historic elements that had been added to the original structures during the expansion were torn down and damaged areas were restored. The next phase included structural re-enforcement to bring the buildings up to current code and the installation of state-of-the-art infrastructure systems. Most of the architectural design work centered on the interior spaces, reconfiguring them to accommodate the new uses.  Originally constituting 25,100 square feet of jail cell space, the central block has been transformed into a new public patio flanked by specialty retail stores and an eclectic mix of restaurants offering both interior and al fresco dining options. The drive-through archway that once brought suspects to the processing area in the former administration building leads to a paved central courtyard graced with a beautifully restored fountain. Lushly landscaped the space is a great venue for entertainment events and sure to be a popular gathering place for local residents and visitors.