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L.A. federal courthouse named national landmark

October 17, 2012 |  3:17 pm

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California and Post OfficeThe downtown federal courthouse on Spring Street -- site of the first ruling that public school segregation was unconstitutional -- was declared a national landmark Wednesday by the Interior secretary.

The courthouse was the site of the 1946 Mendez vs. Westminster School District lawsuit, filed by five Latino families whose children were denied admission to Southern California public schools.

After a five-day trial, the federal court ruled that the "separate but equal" doctrine in support of school segregation was not legal -- a precursor to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The building hosted a number of other high-profile cases, including paternity cases against Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin, a breach of contract suit filed by Bette Davis against Warner Bros. and the 1973 federal government case against Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the "Pentagon Papers," according to the U.S. General Services Administration.

Built between 1937 and 1940, the courthouse was the third federal building constructed in Los Angeles. In 2006, the National Park Service added the courthouse to the National Register of Historical Places. It also once housed a post office.

"This is a wonderful honor for the United States post office and courthouse in Los Angeles,” said Ruth Cox, regional administrator for the GSA’s Pacific Rim Region. “This designation as a national landmark pays tribute to the significant role the facility played during the mid 1940s as public schools in Southern California struggled with desegregation issues."

The courthouse was one of five California locations given the landmark designation Wednesday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Others were the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene; the Drakes Bay Historic and Archeological District at Points Reyes Station; the Knight's Ferry Bridge in Stanislaus County; and the James R. Browning U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The designations bring the total number of national historic landmarks to 2,527, in addition to 592 sites that have been declared national natural landmarks.

“Each of these landmarks represents a thread in the great tapestry that tells the story of our beautiful land, our diverse culture and our nation’s rich heritage,” Salazar said in a statement.


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Photo: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California and Post Office. Credit: U.S. General Services Administration