For skid row residents and advocates, mural is a sign of survival

Gale Holland (Los Angeles Times) | August 23, 2014

The Skid Row Super MuralSkid row is the place that dares not speak its name.

The neighborhood of 10,000 people on the eastern end of downtown Los Angeles — with the largest concentration of homeless people in the country — is generally not listed on municipal signs or maps. The local firehouse was ordered years ago to take “skid row” off its ambulances and rigs.

As bars, lofts and restaurants started to pop up in skid row’s traditional territory, the city — prodded by business groups — began using names like Old Bank District, Historic Core, Central City East or Industrial District to describe parts of the 50-block area.

This month, a group of residents sought to reclaim their turf, at least symbolically. They put the final touches on an 18-by-50-foot mural with a detailed street map of the area and a clear message: Skid row is a legitimate Los Angeles neighborhood, and should not be erased.

Organizers call “Skid Row Super Mural” a show of pride and self-determination by a community sick of being defined by its most unfortunate citizens. Detractors say the mural is a misguided attempt to paper over the misery of the homeless enclave.

City Councilman Jose Huizar says it is the kind of art he envisioned when he pushed in October to lift the city’s 11-year-old mural ban.

“It’s community pride on the one hand, it’s cleverly done and it creates conversation and debate, which often great public art does,” said Huizar spokesman Rick Coca.

The San Julian Street project, which was registered under the city’s mural ordinance, is on the wall of a property known as Bob’s Bakery owned by businessman Peter Ta, according to city records.

The first phase, which went up in February, depicts the city seal and the words “Skid Row City Limit” in the familiar white-on-green lettering of official signage. In a jab at the city’s failure on the homelessness front, the population is listed as “Too Many.”

In another quietly subversive touch, the map text states that its boundaries are taken from Jones vs. City of Los Angeles, a court case that barred nighttime homeless sweeps by police. It was unveiled Aug. 1.

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Photo credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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