Skid Row, Los Angeles

Coordinates: 34°02′39″N 118°14′38″W / 34.044232°N 118.243886°W / 34.044232; -118.243886

Skid Row
Neighborhoods of Los Angeles

San Julian Street south of 5th, part of the Skid Row area
Skid Row

Location within Downtown Los Angeles

Coordinates: 34°02′39″N 118°14′38″W / 34.044232°N 118.243886°W / 34.044232; -118.243886
Country  United States
State  California
County County of Los Angeles
City  Los Angeles
  City Council Jose Huizar
  State Assembly John Pérez (D)
  State Senate Gilbert Cedillo (D)
  U.S. House Xavier Becerra (D)
  Total 11.2 km2 (4.31 sq mi)
Population (2000)
  Total 17,740
  Density 1,587/km2 (4,111/sq mi)
ZIP Code 90013
Area code(s) 213

Skid Row is an area of Downtown Los Angeles. As of the 2000 census, the population of the district was 17,740. Skid Row was defined in a decision in Jones v. City of Los Angeles as the area east of Main Street, south of Third Street, west of Alameda Street, and north of Seventh Street.[1] Skid Row contains one of the largest stable populations (between 3,000 and 6,000) of homeless people in the United States.[2]


The term "skid row" or "skid road", referring to an area of a city where people live who are "on the skids", derives from a logging term. Loggers would transport their logs to a nearby river by sliding them down roads made from greased skids. Loggers who had accompanied the load to the bottom of the road would wait there for transportation back up the hill to the logging camp. By extension, the term began to be used for places where people with no money and nothing to do gathered, becoming the generic term for a depressed street in a city.[3]


The corner of 5th and San Pedro in 1875
Skidrow Serenade

The population is probably more motley than that in a similar district of any other American city. Jews, Greeks, and Italians in the doorways of pawnshops and secondhand clothing stores vie with one another to lure the unwary passer-by inside. A fat German runs a beer parlor and just across the street a dapper Frenchman ladles up 5-cent bowls of split pea soup. A large, blond woman named Sunshine, born in Egypt, manages one of the cleaner rooming houses. A few Chinese practically monopolize the hand laundry business, and Japanese the cheapest cafes and flophouses. American Indians barter for forbidden whiskey. Chattering Mexicans loiter on the steps leading up to a second-floor hotel. Dapper Negroes, better dressed than any other vagabonds, wander by in riotous groups.

Huston Irvine, Los Angeles Times (March 26, 1939)[4]

1880s through 1960s

At the end of the 19th century, a number of residential hotels opened in the area as it became home to a transient population of seasonal laborers.[5] By the 1930s Skid Row was home to as many as 10,000 homeless people, alcoholics, and others on the margins of society.[4] It supported saloons, residential hotels, and social services which drew people from the populations they served to congregate in the area.[6]

In June 1947, LAPD chief Clemence B. Horrall ordered what he called a "blockade raid" of the whole Skid Row area. Over 350 people were arrested. Assistant Chief Joseph Reed, who claimed that "at least 50 percent of all the crime in Los Angeles originates in the Skid Row area," stated that there had been no "strong arm robberies" on Skid Row as late as one week after the raid. Long time residents, however, were skeptical that the changes would last.[7]

In 1956, the city of Los Angeles was in the midst of a program to "rehabilitate" Skid Row[8] through the clearance of decaying buildings.[9] The program was presented to property owners in the area as an economy measure. Gilbert Morris, then Superintendent of Building, said that at that point the provision of free social services to the approximately one square mile of Skid Row cost the city over $5,000,000 per year as opposed to the city average of $110,000 per square mile annually.[8] The city used administrative hearings to compel the destruction of nuisance properties at the expense of the owner. By July 1960 the clearance program was said to be 87% complete in the Skid Row area.[9]

1970s through present

In the 1970s, two Catholic Workers, Catherine Morris, a former nun, and her husband Jeff Dietrich, a draft dodger, founded the "Hippie Kitchen" in the back of a van. Forty years later, in April 2014, aged 80 and 68, they remained active in their work feeding Skid Row residents.[10]

1987 crackdowns

In February 1987, LAPD chief Daryl Gates, backed by then-mayor Tom Bradley, announced plans for another crackdown on the homeless on Skid Row.[11] Police and firefighters conducted a number of sweeps through the area but the plan was abandoned due to opposition by advocates for the homeless.[11]

When Gates announced in May that the crackdown would resume, Los Angeles City Attorney James K. Hahn responded that he would not prosecute people arrested in the planned sweeps.[12] Hahn stated that he was "not going to prosecute individuals for not having a place to stay. I simply will not prosecute people for being poor, underprivileged and unable to find a place to sleep until I'm convinced that a viable alternative to sleeping on the streets exists."[12] Gates, still backed by Bradley, responded: "As the elected city attorney of Los Angeles, Mr. Hahn has a responsibility to file prosecutable cases which are presented to him by the Los Angeles Police Department."[11]

A few days later, then-Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky introduced a proposal that the city stop enforcing its anti-camping laws on Skid Row until adequate housing could be found for all its residents.[13] The council rejected Yaroslavsky's proposal, but after hearing testimony from Assistant Police Chief David Dotson describing the LAPD's intended crackdown methodology, the council passed a motion asking Gates not to enforce the anti-camping laws until adequate housing could be found for the area's residents.[13]

Patient dumping

In September 2005, hospitals and law enforcement agencies were discovered to be "dumping" homeless people on Skid Row. Then Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered an investigation and William Bratton, LAPD chief at the time, claimed that the Department was not targeting homeless people specifically, but only people who violate city ordinances.[14] The Los Angeles City Attorney investigated more than 50 of about 150 reported cases of dumping.[15] By early 2007, the city attorney had filed charges against only one hospital, Kaiser Permanente. Because there were no laws specifically covering the hospital's actions they were charged, in an untested strategy, with false imprisonment. In response to the lack of legal recourse available to fight patient dumping, California state senator Gil Cedillo sponsored legislation against it in February 2007.[16]

2006 lawsuit

In 2002, newly appointed LAPD chief William Bratton announced a plan to clean up Skid Row by, among other things, aggressively enforcing an old "anti-camping" ordinance.[17] Robert Lee Purrie, for instance, was cited twice for violating the ordinance in December 2002 and January 2003 and his possessions: "blankets, clothes, cooking utensils, a hygiene kit," and so on, were confiscated by the police.[17]

A view of The Midnight Mission on Skid Row

In April 2006, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the ACLU in its suit against the city of Los Angeles, filed on behalf of Purrie and five other homeless people, finding that the city was in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and sections of the California Constitution guaranteeing due process and equal protection and prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.[17] The court stated that "the LAPD cannot arrest people for sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks in Skid Row." The court said that the anti-camping ordinance is "one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States."[17]

The ACLU sought a compromise in which the LAPD would be barred from arresting homeless people or confiscating their possession on Skid Row between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The compromise plan, which was accepted by the city of Los Angeles, permits sleeping on the sidewalk except "within 10 feet of any business or residential entrance" and only between these hours.[18]

Downtown development business interests and the Central City Association (CCA) came out against the compromise. On September 20, 2006, Los Angeles City Council voted to reject the compromise.[19] On October 3, 2006, police arrested Skid Row's transients for sleeping on the streets for the first time in months.[20] On October 10, 2006, under pressure from the ACLU, the city tacitly agreed to the compromise by declining to appeal the court's decision.[18]


As of the census[21] of 2000, there were 17,740 people and 2,410 households residing in the neighborhood. The population density was 4,111/mi². The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 25.5% White, 26.7% African American, 0.4% Native American, 5.8% Asian, 40.7% from other races, and 2.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 51.4% of the population.[22]

In the neighborhood the population was spread out with 9.8% under the age of 18, 54.7% from 18 to 34, 39.9% from 35 to 64, and 4.6% who were 65 years of age or older.[23]

The per capita income for the neighborhood was $14,210. About 41.8% of the population were below the poverty line.[24]

Government and infrastructure

The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) serves the neighborhood with Station #3 in the Business District and Station #9 in Skid Row. Station #9 operates one engine, one truck, two ALS rescue ambulances, and one BLS rescue ambulance. It currently is the busiest firehouse in Los Angeles.[25] Fire engines and ambulances serving the neighborhood have historically had "Skid Row" emblazoned on their sides.[26] On June 1, 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that fire officials planned to change the legend on the vehicles to read "Central City East". Many residents supported the change, but it was opposed by firefighters and some residents who take pride in the sense that they live in a tough area.[26]

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services operates the Central Health Center in Downtown Los Angeles, serving Skid Row.[27]

Services for homeless people in Los Angeles are centralized in Skid Row.[28] Examples include the Volunteers of America, the Union Rescue Mission, The Jonah Project, Downtown Mental Health (a branch of the Department of Mental Health), LAMP, Downtown Women's Center, The Weingart Foundation, Los Angeles Mission, Fred Jordan Mission, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Cardinal Manning Center,[29] and Midnight Mission. In 2007, Union Rescue Mission opened Hope Gardens, a facility outside of Skid Row which is exclusively for women and children.[30]


The Skid Row City Limits Mural
A man sleeps in a shopping cart on Skid Row, 2012.

The site has appeared as a location in several movies, including The Sting, and television shows such as Starsky & Hutch, Baretta, and Quincy ME.[36][37][38][39] The 1960 comedy horror film The Little Shop of Horrors as well as its stage musical adaptation are set here, and the latter includes the song "Skid Row (Downtown)". However, the location of the 1986 film adaptation of the musical was moved to New York City.

Skid Row was also used as a location for filming the music video for the Michael Jackson song "Beat It".[40]

Notable residents


The community is served primarily by 10 Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus lines:[43]

Local lines

Line 16/316 - Downtown Los Angeles to Century City (via 5th and 6th Streets)

Line 18 - Koreatown to Montebello (via 5th and 6th Streets)

Line 20 - Downtown Los Angeles to Westwood (via 7th Street)

Line 51 - Compton to Wilshire/Vermont Station (via 7th and San Pedro Streets)

Line 52/352 - Harbor Gateway Transit Center to Wilshire/Vermont Station (via 7th St, San Pedro St and Avalon Blvd)

Line 53 - California State University, Dominguez Hills to Downtown Los Angeles (via 5th and 6th Streets)

Line 60 - Artesia Station to Downtown Los Angeles (via 7th Street)

Line 62 - Hawaiian Gardens to Downtown Los Angeles (via 5th and 6th Streets)

Rapid lines

Main article: Metro Rapid

Metro Rapid Line 720 - Commerce to Santa Monica (via 5th and 6th Streets)

Metro Rapid Line 760 - Artesia Station to Downtown Los Angeles (via 7th Street)

See also

Further reading


  1. "Jones v. City of Los Angeles" on
  2. John Edwin Fuder, Training Students for Urban Ministry: An Experiential Approach. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock (2001).
  3. Partridge, Eric; Beale, Paul (ed.) A Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English New York< Macmillam (1989). p.405
  4. 1 2 Irvine, Huston (March 26, 1939). "Skid Row Serenade". Los Angeles Times. p. I6.
  5. "444 F.3d 1118". Retrieved 2013-03-11.
  6. Wild, Mark (2 June 2008). Street Meeting: Multiethnic Neighborhoods in Early Twentieth-century Los Angeles. University of California Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-520-94176-2. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  7. Boyle, Hal (June 14, 1947). "Skid Row; The West's Bowery". Evening Independent. p. 10.
  8. 1 2 Stern, Walter H. (June 28, 1956). "Wide Fight Urged on Decay in Cities". New York Times. p. 48.
  9. 1 2 Sibley, John (July 3, 1960). "Slum Landlords Under Cities' Fire". New York Times. p. 1.
  10. Streeter, Kurt (2014-04-09). "A couple's commitment to skid row doesn't waver". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
  11. 1 2 3 Boyarsky, Bill; McMillan, Penelope (May 30, 1987). "L.A. City Attorney, Mayor Tangle Over Police Plan to Jail Homeless". Los Angeles Times. p. A13.
  12. 1 2 Boyarsky, Bill; McMillan, Penelope (May 30, 1987). "Won't Prosecute Homeless Who Are ArrestedHahn". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
  13. 1 2 McMillan, Penelope (June 3, 1987). "L.A. Council Asks Police to Scrap Arrests of Homeless Unless Rooms Are Available". Los Angeles Times (Orange County ed.). p. A11.
  14. Cook, Joseph G.; Malone, Linda A.; Marcus, Paul; Moohr, Geraldine Szott (17 July 2012). Criminal Law. LexisNexis. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-57911-678-1. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  15. Jansson, Bruce S. (2011). Becoming an Effective Policy Advocate: From Policy Practice to Social Justice. Cengage Learning. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-495-81239-5. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  16. Winton, Richard; Blankenstein (February 22, 2007). "California bill would ban patient dumping". Herald-Journal. p. 4.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Weinstein, Henry; DiMassa, Cara Mia (April 15, 2006). "Justices Hand L.A.'s Homeless a Victory; In a case with national import, a federal appeals court rules the LAPD cannot arrest people for sitting, lying or sleeping on skid row sidewalks". Los Angeles Times (Home ed.). p. A1.(subscription required)
  18. 1 2 Moore, Solomon (October 31, 2007). "Some Respite, if Little Cheer, for Skid Row Homeless". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2013.
  19. "Handing Skid Row to the drug dealers - Los Angeles Times". 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
  20. "LAPD Gentrifies Skid Row". Colorlines. 2007-10-03. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
  21. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  22. Race Demographics: L.A. Almanac
  23. Age and Sex Demographics: L.A. Almanac
  24. Poverty by neighborhood: L.A. Almanac
  25. "LAFD News & Information: The Busiest Fire Stations in Los Angeles". 2007-08-04. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
  26. 1 2 Fire Station 9 Skid Row
  27. "Central Health Center." Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. Retrieved on March 18, 2010.
  28. Juanita K. Hunter (1993). Nursing and Health Care for the Homeless. SUNY Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-4384-0731-9. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  30. Hope Gardens Family Center
  31. James Bacon (January 12, 1953). "New Catholic Cardinal Once Was Messenger". The News and Courier. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  32. Lowery, Wesley. "Innovative housing for the homeless being built in downtown L.A.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  33. 1 2 Frazier, Ian (2000). On the Rez. New York: Macmillan. pp. 134, 135. ISBN 0374226385.
  34. Schaefer, Samantha. "For Skid Row Residents and Advocates, Mural is a Sign of Survival". LA Times. LA Times. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  35. Romero, Dennis. "Skid Row Gets City Recognition Through Murals". LA Weekly. LA Weekly. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  36. "Earliest Titles with Location Matching Werdon Pl.". Internet Movie Database.
  37. "Starsky & Hutch, The Psychic Filming Locations". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2013-08-13.
  38. "Baretta, Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow Filming Locations". Internet Movie Database.
  39. "Quincy, Dark Angel Filming Locations". Internet Movie Database.
  40. Blake, Lindsay (March 26, 2010). "The (Probable) Warehouse from Michael Jackson's "Beat It" Video". Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  41. Aline Mosby (October 13, 1952). "Crying Singer Would Credit Faith For Climb Up Ladder". The Times-News. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  42. Kurt Streeter (July 27, 2008). "Addiction turned out to be his biggest hurdle". The Times-News. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  43. Metro System Map
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