by PAT CONNELLY
Sgt. II, Pat Connelly retired from the LAPD in 1996. He was elected to the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club (LAPRAAC ) Board of Directors, and presently serves in the retirement position. A member of the Baker to Vegas Race Committee, Connelly was appointed the “Official B to V Team Coach & Coordinator.”
A while back, I went to the Police Academy in Elysian Park to attend a LAPRAAC Board of Directors meeting. I walked past the security office and up the road to the Chief Daryl F. Gates Lounge. Making my way, I passed between the familiar stone walls on each side of the roadway. My walk brought back memories of the first time I did so, over 46 years ago.
Before the Watts Riots in August 1965, I joined the LAPD Reserve Corps. My training commenced on a Saturday morning in the Academy gym. Greeting our class were Officer Les Jenkins and Sergeant George Morrison (the late Morrison retired at the rank of Commander). Both men were spit and polish; standing tall in Class A uniforms, impressing all 30 members of a nervous and unsuspecting recruit reserve class.
The first thing Sgt. Morrison did after mustering the class, was speak about the heritage and history of the Los Angeles Police Academy, and the role that LAPRAAC played in its development.
Starting at the two rock pillars supporting the arcing Police Academy sign, the two men in blue took us on a tour of the grounds. As we walked along, Sgt Morrison pointed out different structures, landscaping, and memorable and historical landmarks. He spoke softly, and the steady tempo of his words radiated his strong sense of pride. It was obvious he was honored to be a member of the LAPD, as well as a member and in his day a noted athlete in LAPRAAC.
Sgt. Morrison explained the rock formations that divide the narrow roadway and then stated, “As you can see,, the walls are made of slabs of concrete, broken chunks of sidewalk brought up here in 1935 by trustees and a cadre of police officers. I will say more on this project later.”
As we walked, he told us the Academy’s history and how it became what it was on that day in 1965 and still is today.
In 1926, Chief James Davis was instrumental in the development and the formalizing of training for officers. The first such training was held in an armory downtown, where officers were instructed in all aspects of criminal justice and street police training. However, no firearms training was provided, except for a makeshift firing range behind the Lincoln Heights station. Today, it is known as Hollenbeck Station.
In 1931, Chief Davis set his sights on obtaining an area in the City of Los Angeles that would provide a formal shooting range for firearms instruction, qualification (including a bonus shoot) and shooting practice. Griffith Park was first suggested, but subsequently disapproved by the Recreation and Parks Commission. An alternative site in Elysian Park, consisting of 21 hillside acres, was then selected and approved; the rugged land was situated above Chavez Ravine.
Chief Davis put out a call throughout the Department for any officers skilled in building, and in electrical and plumbing installation. Sgt. Henry Fricket, assigned Lincoln Heights Station, was the first officer to answer the call. He applied his expertise in carpentry, constructing a 25-yard enclosed pit area, target frames, and firing points. The Department finally had a place to improve one’s shooting skills with the newly approved .45 caliber revolver. Officer Ronald French was the first range master.
In early 1931, eight officers formed a competitive pistol (revolver) team. The “Bulls Eye” shooting specialists were Chief James Davis, and Officers Stanley Stone, Jack Bartley, Joe Dircks, Bud Buchanan, R. J. Ward, J.J. Engbecht, and Mark Wheeler. The team was the first of many championship pistol teams to earn prestige and national fame for the Department and LAPRAAC.
The 25-yard range design and construction was professionally laid out and so complete that it was chosen as the venue for the 1932 Summer Olympic Games pistol competition.
In the fall of 1934, the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club filed and obtained legal status. It then took on the responsibility of maintaining the Academy grounds. Under the supervision of Chief Davis (at the time he was President of the LAPRAAC Board of Directors), Sgt William H. Parker, also a lawyer, was assigned to draw up the necessary documents. Sgt. Parker would later become Chief of Police and rebuild what had been a corrupt entity into a professional police department, respected throughout the world. A bust of Chief Parker, commemorating his contributions during his long and distinguished career, currently stands in an honored spot on the Academy grounds.
Once the legal paperwork was approved, signed and delivered, the “club” started focusing on recreational and athletic outlets for its membership.
Officer Fred Eberhart obtained the services of the Department of Forestry. This action brought pine trees and shrubs to the Academy that stand today. Club members supervised 400 trusties that were put to work constructing the rock garden, landscaping, and building the pair of entry pillars and high walls traversing up the hill alongside the Academy roadway. The walls, made of rock and concrete chunks, had been pedestrian walkways on both sides of Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley.
Tons of concrete from the sidewalks torn out for road widening, utilizing a federal worker program (WPA) during the Depression, were transported to Elysian Park. In addition, the Department of Fish and Game donated 200 quail, 18 gray squirrels, and many fish to create a natural habitat within the hillside rock garden and its several waterfalls and shaped pools.
The first building constructed at the Academy had been an Olympic Village mess hall, located in Baldwin Hills during the 1932 Summer Games. It now is called the Chief Daryl F. Gates Lounge. Club members disassembled the building and reassembled it at its present location. After its completion, a large pool and athletic field and track were constructed across the street.
To cover the cost, members of the Department donated 1% of one month’s salary.
The Academy’s first graduating class of forty recruits, numbers 1-36, called their group “Club 40.” A plaque is on display honoring their place in Academy history. A photograph of class members is on the wall in the public café. The first female class graduated ten years later, in 1946.
The indoor gymnasium was constructed in 1935 at a cost of $181,000. Included in the project were a stage, a locker room, handball courts, administrative offices, billiards room, barbershop, beauty salon, steam room, and a massage alcove. A licensed masseur was available.
Officer Bob Burke (retired LAPRAAC Club Athletic Director) revealed a legendary story about a closet in the Academy Commanding Officer’s office. At one time it opened to a wet bar, designed and constructed for the comfort (possibly on and off duty) of Chief James Davis. Burke says if one looks hard, one will see a piece of the old liquor cabinet still in the office.
Only months after the start of WW II, police recruits in training lived on the grounds; they were allowed to go home on the weekends. A barracks type bunkroom was set up in the present day lounge. A small, separate, square-shaped building just inside the wall near the security office, is where meals were served. That area and the barbeque pit are still present. The building used to be the Law Instructor’s Unit; it currently is leased to a commercial real estate business.
A consultant for the residents’ living and training needs was Melvin Furbish, a retired Marine Corps general. General Furbish patterned discipline of the recruits after his beloved Corps. He included the class “A” uniform style worn today by the Department, and still worn by the USMC.
Another Academy landmark is the concrete seating area on the athletic field. The long and tiered seating, three levels high, is located behind home plate, where LAPRAAC’s baseball team plays. Many Department participants were former college and semi-professional baseball players. They played other local pro teams, including the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels, as well as university teams from USC and UCLA. The LAPD diamond-field hardball athletes have won their fair share of games.
On March 3, 2013, the Department baseball team will have been playing continuously for 100 years.
A former member of a LAPRAAC post-WWII baseball team was my watch commander at West Valley Division (1967), Lt. Frank Mullins. At the age of 48, he participated on the Department’s long distance running/relay team, sponsored by LAPRAAC. Frank retired out of Robbery-Homicide Division, RHD. He loved to talk about the Club’s all-star team and how proud he was to wear the LAPD logo on his baseball uniform.
Frank’s baseball-playing name was “Moon” Mullins. He got his nickname playing shortstop as a member of the Chicago Cub’s farm team, the Vancouver Canucks. His moniker is not to be confused with 1959 Dodger, Wally Moon. However they did have one thing in common: hitting a home run, a short distance over a high fence.
Moon claimed he mastered his swing with a flick of his wrist, often hitting a very high pop fly over the Academy’s 50-foot-tall right field fence. The arcing balls would either bounce onto the road and roll down to Chavez Ravine, or would splash into the pool. An unlucky class recruit, usually on discipline, had the task of retrieving each ball.
Lieutenant Frank “Moon” Mullins, a Medal of Valor winner, passed away in 2010. He is another part of Academy history.
Sergeant George Morrison ended his Academy history lesson and tour where it started an hour earlier. He closed by stating (I believe with a tear), “Don’t ever take this place for granted. Be respectful of its history and legacy and be thankful for all the Department personnel who funded, sacrificed, and labored to make this place unique in American law enforcement, along with its notable athletic history. Now you can enjoy a place to recreate, increase your physical fitness, and have family and partner privacy. Complementing all we have seen today, you too, can proudly wear a sports competition uniform displaying the logo LAPD/ LAPRAAC.”