Skid Row, Los Angeles

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

Skid Row, Los Angeles
San Julian Street south of 5th Street
San Julian Street south of 5th Street
Skid Row, Los Angeles is located in Downtown Los Angeles
Skid Row, Los Angeles
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
CountyCounty of Los Angeles
City Los Angeles
 • City CouncilJose Huizar
 • State AssemblyJohn Pérez (D)
 • State SenateGilbert Cedillo (D)
 • U.S. HouseJimmy Gomez (D)
 • Total1.12 km2 (0.431 sq mi)
 • Total17,740
 • Density15,890/km2 (41,160/sq mi)
ZIP Code
Area code(s)213

Skid Row is neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles [1]. The area is also known as Central City East.[2]

As of the 2000 census, the population of the district was 17,740. Skid Row contains one of the largest stable populations (between 5,000 and 8,000) of homeless people in the United States.[3]


City of Los Angeles[edit]

Covering fifty city blocks immediately east of downtown Los Angeles, Skid Row is bordered by Third Street to the north, Seventh Street to the south, Alameda Street to the east, and Main Street to the west. [4][5]


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.[6]


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. Americans 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)[7]

1880s through 1960s[edit]

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.[8] By the 1930s, Skid Row was home to as many as 10,000 homeless people, alcoholics, and others on the margins of society,[7] it supported saloons, residential hotels, and social services, which drew people from the populations they served to congregate in the area.[9]

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.[10]

In 1956, the city of Los Angeles was in the midst of a program to "rehabilitate" Skid Row[11] through the clearance of decaying buildings;[12] 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 million per year as opposed to the city average of $110,000 per square mile annually;[11] 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.[12]

1970s through present[edit]

Skid Row was established by city officials in 1976 as an unofficial "containment zone", where shelters and services for homeless people would be tolerated.[13]

During the 1970s, two Catholic Workers — Catherine Morris, a former nun, and her husband, Jeff Dietrich — 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.[14]

1987 crackdowns[edit]

In February 1987, LAPD chief Daryl Gates, backed by then-Mayor Tom Bradley, announced plans for another crackdown on the homeless on Skid Row.[15] Police and firefighters conducted a number of sweeps through the area but the plan was abandoned due to opposition by advocates for the homeless.[15]

When Gates announced in May that the crackdown would resume, Los Angeles City Attorney (and future mayor) James K. Hahn responded that he would not prosecute people arrested in the planned sweeps.[16] 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."[16] 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."[15]

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;[17] 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.[17]

Patient dumping[edit]

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;[18] the Los Angeles City Attorney investigated more than 50 of about 150 reported cases of dumping.[19] 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, it was 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.[20]

2000 to present[edit]

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.[21] 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.[21]

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;[21] 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."[21]

The ACLU sought a compromise in which the LAPD would be barred from arresting homeless people or confiscating their possessions 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.[22]

Downtown development business interests and the Central City East Association (CCEA) came out against the compromise. On September 20, 2006, Los Angeles City Council voted to reject the compromise.[23] On October 3, 2006, police arrested Skid Row's transients for sleeping on the streets for the first time in months.[24] On October 10, 2006, under pressure from the ACLU, the city tacitly agreed to the compromise by declining to appeal the court's decision.[22]


Corner of South San Pedro Street and East Sixth Street

As of the census[25] of 2000, there were 17,740 people and 2,410 households residing in the neighborhood; the population density was 4,111/mi². The 2017 racial makeup of the neighborhood was 12% White, 62% African American, 1% Native American, 1% Asian, 21% Hispanic or Latino, 0.3% Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander, and 2% from other races. [26] [27][failed verification]

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.[28][failed verification]

The per capita income for the neighborhood was $14,210. About 41.8% of the population were below the poverty line.[29][failed verification]

Government and infrastructure[edit]

The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) serves the neighborhood with Station No. 3 in the Business District, one in the West and Station No. 9 in Skid Row. Station No. 9 operates one engine, one truck, two ALS rescue ambulances, and one BLS rescue ambulance. It currently is the busiest firehouse in Los Angeles.[30] Fire engines and ambulances serving the neighborhood have historically had "Skid Row" emblazoned on their sides.[31] 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.[31]

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services operates the Central Health Center in Downtown Los Angeles, serving Skid Row.[32]

Services for homeless people in Los Angeles are centralized in Skid Row.[33] 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,[34] and Midnight Mission. In 2007, Union Rescue Mission opened Hope Gardens, a facility outside of Skid Row which is exclusively for women and children.[35]


The Skid Row City Limits Mural
  • Star Apartments, a residential housing complex opened in October 2012, built specifically for the needs of the homeless.[36]
  • Indian Alley is the unofficial name given to a stretch of alley, in reference to the significance the area held for indigent American Indians from the 1970s to the 1990s.[37] Indian Alley comprises a block of Werdin Place, running south from Winston Street to East 5th Street, it is bounded to the west by Main Street and to the east by Los Angeles Street.[37]
  • The Skid Row City Limits Mural is an 18-by-50-foot mural displayed at San Julian Street, created in 2014. It features a map demarcating Skid Row's officially recognized boundaries alongside an official-looking sign, replete with city seal, reading "Skid Row City Limit, Population: Too Many." This is the initial installation of a mural project that is planned to eventually cover the whole wall on the San Julian block north of 6th Street. Installed in compliance with the city's mural ordinance, the project was organized by Skid Row activist General Jeff Page with local street art crew Winston Death Squad, and carried out with the labor of Skid Row citizens. Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar's office has hailed the mural, saying, "It's community pride on the one hand, it's cleverly done and it creates conversation and debate, which often great public art does." [38][39]

In popular culture[edit]

In Skid Row, tents line entire city blocks

The site has appeared as a location in several movies, including The Sting, and television shows such as Starsky & Hutch, Baretta, and Quincy ME;[40][41][42][43] the 1960 comedy horror film The Little Shop of Horrors is set in Skid Row; however, the location of the 1982 musical (and its 1986 film adaptation) was moved to New York City (although the song Skid Row (Downtown) exists in both).

Skid Row was also used as a location for filming the music video for the Michael Jackson song "Beat It".[44]

It was featured as the base of operations for Riley North in the film Peppermint.

The heavy metal band Skid Row was named after this area.

American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey mentions the area in her 2012 song Cola, in the lyric "I wear my diamonds on Skid Row."

Electronic artist James Ferraro's album Skid Row is conceptualized around the area.

Notable residents[edit]


The community is served primarily by 10 Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus lines:[49]

Local lines[edit]

Line 16/316 — Downtown Los Angeles to Century City (via Fifth and Sixth streets)

Line 18Koreatown to Montebello (via Fifth and Sixth streets)

Line 20 — Downtown Los Angeles to Westwood (via Seventh Street)

Line 51/351Compton to Wilshire/Vermont Station (via Seventh and San Pedro streets)

Line 52Harbor Gateway Transit Center to Wilshire/Vermont Station (via Seventh Street, San Pedro Street, and Avalon Boulevard)

Line 53California State University, Dominguez Hills to Downtown Los Angeles (via Fifth and Sixth streets)

Line 60Artesia Station to Downtown Los Angeles (via Seventh Street)

Line 62Hawaiian Gardens to Downtown Los Angeles (via Fifth and Sixth streets)

Rapid lines[edit]

Metro Rapid Line 720Commerce to Santa Monica (via Fifth and Sixth streets)

Metro Rapid Line 760Artesia Station to Downtown Los Angeles (via Seventh Street)

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row by Forrest Stuart, 2016, University of Chicago Press


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  49. ^ Metro System Map[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]