The Infamous Lincoln Heights Jail
Al Capone. Zoot Suit Riots. Watts Riots. Bloody Christmas.
Nightmare On Elm Street. The Long Goodbye. Caged Heat. LA Confidential.
These make up only part of the story of of LA’s dark history…
The Lincoln Heights Jail operated from the 1930s to the 1960s before being decommissioned. Before its closing, the jail even housed Al Capone himself and became infamous for an incident later titled “Bloody Christmas”. The jail was then used for various things such as a popular filming site for big Hollywood movies and music videos, and even home to the Bilingual Foundation Of Arts. Despite plans to redevelop the imposing structure, Lincoln Heights Jail currently sits empty and abandoned.
The Lincoln Heights Jail, located near the Los Angeles River, was built in 1927 and cost a massive $5 million. It opened its doors in 1931 and was initially made up of 5-stories with space to house 625 prisoners. Things had changed rapidly by the early 1950s though, with the jail growing to hold 2800 prisoners. In 1951, the unwarranted and unprovoked beatings of seven prisoners. This is what became known as Bloody Christmas. It all started on Christmas Eve of 1951 when LAPD officers Julius Trojanowski and Nelson Brownson headed out to a call that had reported minors drinking. When they arrived, the so-called minors were seven adult men. Daniel Rodela, Elias Rodela, Jack Wilson, William Wilson, Raymond Marquez, Manuel Hernandez, and Eddie Nora. The men produced their identification documents showing their age but still, the officers said they had to leave. The men all refused. The officers then tried to forcefully remove them and a fight broke out. The one officer needed stitches and the other got a black eye. Seven hours later the men were arrested. 6 were taken to the jail. Daniel Rodela however, was horrifically beaten by multiple police officers. On Christmas morning, a rumor broke out between a large number of drinking officers at a Christmas party that Julius Trojanowski had lost an eye. The 6 prisoners were then taken from their jail cells and beaten for 95 minutes by approximately 50 officers. All of the men received severe injuries. A cover-up attempt followed and shockingly the results of the eventual trial were as follows: 8 officers were indicted and tried between July and November of 1952. Five were convicted, but only one of the men got a prison sentence of more than a year. 54 other officers were transferred and 39 were temporarily suspended without pay.
Al Capone was detained at Lincoln Heights Jail along with other notable individuals such as those arrested during the Zoot Suit Riots and the Watt Riots. Lincoln Heights Jail also had a high number of LGBTQ+ inmates. These inmates were all kept in a separate wing. The Los Angeles Police Department had a heavy crackdown on LGBTQ+ activity during the 50s and 60s. Undercover officers would go to bars and parks that were known hangouts for members of this community and then arrest anyone they suspected of soliciting non-heterosexual sex and prostitution.
The jail was officially decommissioned in 1965 after the LA City Council and LA County Board of Supervisors decided to rather consolidate inmates to nearby county jails as it would be more cost-effective. In 1979, Lincoln Heights Jail became the home of the Bilingual Foundation of Arts as well as a gym. This arrangement lasted until 2014, the operations were closed after asbestos and lead paint were discovered at the building. Mysteriously, before this happened the gym’s owner was found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft.
In 1994, a local boxing champion, Johnnie Flores, fell to his death in the elevator shaft after leaving the Los Angeles Youth Athletic Club. The community champion and amateur boxer was found at the bottom of the service elevator shaft just steps away from the boxing gym he founded and where he spent most of his days. This boxing gym made use of the former jail cells and holding tanks to provide athletic training for local youth.
The Lincoln Heights Jail has served as the backdrop to many of our favorite movies since its closure. These include The Nightmare of Elm Street, Caged Heat, The Long Goodbye, L.A. Confidential, and American History X and more.. It has also been used by musicians such as Lady Gaga and Blink-182 as the setting for their music videos.
Various film and TV crew members as well as building staff and visitors have reported experiencing unexplained or paranormal activity.
In 2016, there looked to be a new lease on life on the horizon for the Lincoln County Jail after the City of Los Angeles issued a Request for Interest to garner development ideas for the property. Permission was granted to Lincoln Property Company and Fifteen Group to redevelop the prison. The Lincoln Heights Jail was set to become Lincoln Heights Makers District. The space was going to have commercial and manufacturing spaces, recreational areas, an office space, live-work housing, and an amphitheater with green space. But, March 2020 saw things come to a halt after the site was put on hold due to environmental issues. There was hazardous material and trash that needed to be removed that apparently required more effort than initially expected.
As of 2022, the Lincoln Heights Jail is littered with graffiti and there seems to be no work being done on it. At the moment, it is off bounds for the public and is surrounded by a chain-link fence and protected by security guards. It is unclear what the future plans are for this historic building.