This blog entry is about Skid Row. Joining me on the adventure were Aussie-Chinese film-producer Diana Ward and Colombian-Chinese-American designer/illustrator/downtown resident Wendy Chin -- both used to playing "traveling companions" to my Doctor.
Skid Row is a neighborhood in Los Angeles' Central City East District. It's known to locals as "The Nickel" because it's centered on 5th. It's neighbored by the Fashion District, Little Tokyo, The Toy District, The Flower District and The Downtown Industrial District.
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Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Skid Row
Skid Row and the surrounding area is home to one of the largest homeless populations in the US (about 8,000 of LA’s 60,000 estimated homeless). As of the census of 2000, there were 17,740 people and 2,410 households residing in the neighborhood. Because of inadequate beds at shelters, people are allowed to sleep on the streets in the neighborhood between 9 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
The area that is now Downtown Los Angeles was the site of the Tongva village of Yanga. After the Spanish arrived, they established La Placita nearby, to the north. By the time of the miners who swarmed the area following the California Gold Rush of 1849, the land had passed through the hands of the Mexicans to the Americans. One, a Kentuckian named William Wolfskill, had the area planted with citrus trees to sell to scurvy-prone miners.
By the 1870s, trains began arriving in the area both to transport the citrus to far off locales and to bring in migrant workers to work in the groves. The city's population exploded from 11,000 in 1880 to 100,000 by 1896, three years after the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe opened a station there, in what's now the Arts District.
Following the arrival of trains and the immigrant laborers they brought, the area began to rapidly industrialize. Much of the work in Los Angeles, based as it was on agriculture, was seasonal. To cater to the workers between jobs, many bars and flophouses sprang up between downtown proper and the growing industrial district, which gradually became known alternately as the Nickel. Soon it was a magnet for the down-and-out and thus, LA's Skid Row was born.
Just a few blocks to the west, Downtown Los Angeles experienced its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. Twelve movie palaces opened up in the nearby Broadway Theater District between 1910 and 1931 and the area was the hub of entertainment in the city.
Meanwhile, in Central City East, cheap residential hotels sprouted up to house the down-and-out. Today, most of these hotels remain, their function unchanged. If you ignore the litter and foul smells, Los Angeles' Skid Row is, in many parts, quite beautiful.
Hotels on Wall Street including Carlton Hotel (1903), Haskell Hotel (1912) and Ward Hotel
San Julian Park fka Theives Corner aka Crack Corner
On the 500 block of San Julian there's The Angelus Inn (1907), Simone Hotel (1991), Russ Hotel (1925), Marshall House (1906), and Leo Hotel (1910).
Hotel Norbo (built 1912)
Golden West Hotel (built in 1913)
The Lyndon and Madison Hotel (1924)
Panama Hotel (built in 1911)
Other Skid Row residential hotels include the Aster Hotel (built 1908 - 618 E. 4th), Edward Hotel (built in 1924 - 713 E 5th St), Harold Hotel (built in 1905 - 323 E 5th St), Hart Hotel (built in 1913 - 508 E 4th St), St. Marks Hotel (built in 1914 - 609 E 5th St) and Weldon Hotel (built in 1994 - 507 Maple Ave).
After World War II, suburbanization and freeway construction led many down-towners away. Many of the business headquarters followed and between the 1930s and '50s, downtown went into steep decline. In 1955, slums in the western part of downtown began to be cleared to make way for future skyscraper development. Central City East remained ignored. The theaters on Broadway began showing Spanish-language films.
At the same time, gay Angeleno culture began to flower. Under Chief William Parker, who served as Los Angeles's chief of police from 1950 until 1966, the LAPD cracked down on homosexuality by raiding gay bars and entrapping gays by paying aspiring Hollywood actors to serve as bait for gays. So many arrests occurred that an entire section of the Lincoln Heights jail was reserved for gay inmates, nicknamed the "fruit tank." As one of the least desirable parts of town with thousands of men living in residential hotels, Skid Row became home to the 326 on Spring Street catered to "queens."
In the late ‘60s, many returning emotionally-disturbed and drug-addicted Viet Nam vets joined the older, by then permanent population of alcoholic ex-hobos, tramps and bums. Many missions had long serviced the indigent area and the mostly abandoned industrial area became a hotbed for those both dropping out of society and those dropped out by society.
In the '70s, lured by the abundant and abandoned space, artists began moving into the adjacent Arts District but Skid Row plunged further as it transformed what was, for all intents and purposes, an open air drug market. In the '80s, crack was introduced, AIDS proliferated and President Reagan cut federal expenditures for low-cost housing from $32 billion in 1981 to a paltry $7 billion in 1987. In the '90s, meth joined heroin and crack as popular and easily accessible drugs in Skid Row. Gang members from all over the southland still come to the area and temporarily put aside their differences to sell drugs.
Then, in 1999, the long abandoned historic buildings in the Old Bank district began to be renovated into lofts. Although some complained about gentrification and increasingly strict policing, the homeless situation has improved. The presence of more residents in the area has also meant more attention has been focused on the area. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, several local hospitals, including Kaiser Permanente and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center as well as various Los Angeles County community cops were exposed to be dumping patients and homeless people from elsewhere in the neighborhood. Still, a big part of the improvement of the situation in Skid Row is due the missions and services helping the homeless.
There are also many missions in Skid Row and on the day we visited there was a convertible van with a megaphone man warning "The end is nigh! The end is nigh!" or something to that effect. Skid Row missions include Azusa Lighthouse Mission Church, Emmanuel Baptist Rescue Mission, Fred Jordan Mission, JWCH Institute, Los Angeles Mission, Midnight Mission, St. Mark's Mission, Transition House, Union Rescue Mission and Volunteers of America Grace Project.
Secular services serving the poor and otherwise underserved include the Downtown Mental Health Center, Downtown Women's Center, Frontline Foundation, LA Center for Drug & Alcohol Services, Los Angeles Christian Health Center, Lamp Village, Los Angeles Mission Community Clinic, Skid Row Development Corporation, Skid Row Housing Trust and the Weingart Center.
In 2009, The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported an astonishing and heartening 38% decrease in homelessness just over the past two years. So, even though hopelessness is always in fashion, in seems that things are getting better, due to efforts of many.
SKID ROW EATS
It's hard to imagine even the most irony-obsessed knaves venturing into Skid Row for eats. For the most part, there aren't a lot of restaurants in the neighborhood. There's Coffee Coffee, Chicken House, Corner Kafe, Pizza Xpress, Myung Dong and Green Apple.
SKID ROW IN MUSIC
Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician of considerable talent, used to favor the nearby 3rd street tunnel but has been spending more nights in the Lamp Village in Skid Row after LA Times journalist Steve Lopez brought attention to his story which was the basis of the film The Soloist (2009). Jon Bon Jovi has made efforts to help various city's homeless communities as well, mainly through the efforts of his JBJ Soul Foundation.
SKID ROW IN MOVIES
Not too many have been filmed in Skid Row and those that have are mostly documentaries. One exception is The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), parts of which were shot on 5th.
Pras' Skid Row (2007), concerns a spoiled, rich dude spending a couple nights outdoors, getting in too deep and coming out with the realization that being homeless is difficult.
Skid Row has also been seen in Reflections of Evil (2002), Into the Wild (2007), Somewhere in the City (2007), American Drug War - The Last Great White Hope, Chorus - Skid Row Stories and Hova (all 2010).
There's not a lot of art happening in Skid Row and it's pretty much 100% gentrification free. There is that sculpture, LAPD Bike Rack (pictured above). There's also the non-profit Los Angeles Poverty Department.