Skid Row might not exist to City Hall, where the downtown neighborhood is officially known as Central City East, but residents this week are celebrating their community and its 19th century name with a pair of murals, the second of which was recently completed.
Interestingly, despite reports that getting murals registered with the city is difficult (at least for those with marketing messages in mind), a group of Skid Row residents got through the red tape with relative ease.
Even if the name Skid Row is not officially recognized at City Hall, the murals that now proclaim love for its streets are fully legal:
Last year the city overturned its ban on murals and carefully crafted rules to ensure that the works aren't used as giant commercial billboards. A new process requires a landlord's permission and $60 registration with the Department of Cultural Affairs.
The pair of Skid Row murals on San Julian Street north of Sixth Street are “phase one” of a project to cover an entire wall in local pride, said Skid Row activist and mural organizer General Jeff. He put it best on his Facebook page:
History was made because under the City of Los Angeles' fairly new mural ordinance, Skid Row residents came together to both “officially” qualify and register said murals WITHOUT the assistance of any Skid Row non-profits, social service providers or any other agencies.
The artists, including some who live in tents, last week wrapped up the second part of the mural project's first phase, a working map of the Row, complete with a “you are here” designation.
The first part of phase one, a “Skid Row” piece made to look like those official city signs that designate an L.A. community (pictured at the top), was finished in February.
“This is about the desperate need for the Skid Row community to identify with itself and acknowledge itself,” General Jeff told us.
The newest piece, the map, is based on an official definition of the 50-square-block community that arose from a 2006 court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles, says Stephen Zeigler, an advertising photographer and downtown local who helped General Jeff produce the murals.
A local street art crew, Winston Death Squad, as well as noted art provocateur Wild Life, helped out too, Zeigler told us. But, he emphasized, “It was Jeff's vision,” executed by Skid Row citizens themselves.
“I had one guy who sleeps in a tent give me $5 as his contribution to it,” Zeigler said.
General Jeff said the pair of murals has so far cost nearly $1,000, much of it coming from his own pockets.
He sees the pieces not as a stand against creeping gentrification from the nearby Old Bank and Arts districts, home to a new class of young loft dwellers, but as a stand against bullshit itself:
Central City East? It's laughable. Where is that? How is it that it's been Skid Row since the 1800s? How are you going to change the name of something that already has a name. Everybody all over the world has heard of Skid Row. We don't change where you live. Stop trying to change the name of our community.
They can't come up with solutions for Skid Row, so they say, 'Hey, if we change the name maybe people will forget about it.'
General Jeff plans to keep painting. He says he has permission from the building's owner to add more pieces. He has three stories and about 100 feet of wall to work with, he said. He's calling it the Skid Row Super Mural.
“This is also for people outside Skid Row to respect it as being more than drugs, bums and addicts,” he said. Zeigler added, “I see this as a claiming of this place as a community.”
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