"Once, long ago, this was the choicest part of the city. Silent-movie stars,and presidents stayed in hotels like the Alexandria, with its opulent staircases and marble walls...."
-C. Le Duff, NY Times
The act of dumping criminals from other towns into downtown Los Angeles' skid row, a large chunk of the east side of downtown made up of mainly abandoned art deco office buildings, flop house hotels, and abandoned theaters, has taken a new turn.(AP) LOS ANGELES A video camera has recorded a 63-year-old hospital patient dressed only in a gown and slippers being dumped onto a street in Los Angeles' downtown skid row.Officials from Kaiser Permanente's Bellflower hospital apologized for the Monday incident. Monday's incident was recorded by a camera mounted outside the downtown Union Rescue Mission.It shows a taxicab making a U-turn and driving out of camera view.Moments later, a woman appears from the direction of the cab, wandering for about three minutes on a street and a sidewalk before mission staff take her inside the building.
This area, known as "the Nickel," is one of the most interesting places I've seen in the USA. Not to sound numb to the stark realities, but I even showed it to my brother and friends when they visited, a must see in my eyes, and not like a trip to the zoo, simply as an ethnographic exploration of urban decay.
It's been immoritlized in song by my favorite LA homegrown star, Tom Waits, and has become a hot topic of late. What to do with the Nickel, should there be a sweep of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 homeless, should the area be gentrified? As it stands, the residents are not allowed to set up their carboard shelters until 5 pm, when the few offices that are occupied in this area empty out.
In another life, when I was a gopher in the entertainment industry, I remember delivering packages in the Nickel. Sometimes I would enter what appeared like an abandoned building, go up to the 7th floor, and find one occupied office with a 30 something guy in there waiting for me.
When I left, I found myself in the middle of what seemed like a carnival all around me. Hundreds of people were quite happily cutting and taping their box homes together. The smell of pot combined with the radios brought the image of gypsys to mind, it was like a more decrepit Grateful Dead show, complete with comradery and greetings by name.
Now I know it wasn't all as rosy as that moment indicated, not in any sense. I also drove and wandered through there at night. I saw the zombies wandering through the streets, high on car battery acid, the victims of violence, the prostitutes literally working out of porta-potties, and the gangs of crack dealers. The whole area reminded me of the sci-fi movie "Escape from New York," where Manhattan had been abandoned and was used as a prison with no police supervision. The cops never did anything here either, very little presence, a no-mans land where the citizenry make their own rules.
What to do with this area? Whatever it is, the buildings need to be preserved, as they are great examples of early 20th century architecture, the homeless people need another place to go, they are already essentially out of sight of the wealthier denizens of the west side, tucked into a corner in a downtown that has something like 20% occupancy.
Whatever the end result, and it won't be good for the street people, the whole scene needs to be documented thoroughly, as I don't think there is anywhere else quite like it. The seedy underbelly of a glamor drunk and corrupted region. Not for the faint of heart, but a must see for the more adventurous eyes out there.and if you chew tobacco, and wish upon a star,well you'll find out where the scarecrows sit,just like punchlines between the cars,and I know a place where a royal flush,can never beat a pair, and even thomas jefferson,is on the nickel over there.-Tom Waits