UPDATE: In June of 2014, Daniel Wright-Fresco was sentenced to serve 486 days in prison, and on Oct. 10, he was released. He was quickly found back at his post, playing the role of security guard at The Smell.
If you've ever been to downtown DIY venue The Smell, chances are you've met Daniel Wright-Fresco. He's the 44-year-old homeless man who hangs in the alley out back every night, telling stories about how No Age played his birthday party (which is true) and how he returned from a honeymoon vacation in Waikiki by bus (probably not).
Mostly, however, he focuses on his self-given role of unofficial venue security. Though his appearance can be scary to those who don't know him – he's short and thin, with dark shaggy hair and a penchant for baggy, found duds – he's genuinely protective of Smell patrons, many of whom are teenagers. He'll walk you to your car, he keeps the area (which borders Skid Row) clear of pan-handlers, and he enforces the venue's strict no-alcohol policy. He's completely sincere about all of it.
“He's an asset to the place,” says Jim Smith, owner of the Smell. “It makes him feel good to be out there protecting people, providing a service.”
So, when news recently broke that Daniel had been arrested, concern rippled through the Smell community.
#FREEDANIEL hashtags appeared on the Smell's Facebook page, local bands proposed a benefit concert to help raise money for his bail, and fans scrambled to find him an attorney. Confusion abounded. What happened?
Wright-Fresco is something of a mysterious figure, and, as he's being held at the Twin Towers correctional facility downtown, we were unable to speak to him. But at his hearing March 5, the story came into focus.
Turns out Wright-Fresco was arrested February 19, after allegedly threatening a man named Ignacio Nava at the used car dealership where Nava works, near the Smell.
According to Nava's testimony, given in court with the aid of a Spanish-language translator, Wright-Fresco had been loitering around the dealership for months, which Nava and others believed to be a potential deterrent to business. Wright-Fresco, however, seemed to be serving the dealership's customers in the same way he does for kids at the Smell.
In any case, the day of his arrest, Wright-Fresco was confronted by Nava after the former opened the door to a car for a female customer. Nava told Wright-Fresco to leave. But Wright-Fresco asked to speak with Nava's manager and said to him, according to Nava: “Motherfucker, you want to know what it's like to fuck with a Salvadorian?”
Then Wright-Fresco allegedly opened his shirt, revealing a knife tucked into the waist of his pants. The receptionist called the police, and he was arrested and charged with felony “criminal threats,” in essence the crime of putting someone in fear. His trial is set for March 19.
Over the years, Wright-Fresco has become part of the culture of the Smell….
According to Smell volunteers and long-time patrons, Wright-Fresco's back story goes something like this: He was born in El Salvador, where his parents were killed when he was very young. He was adopted by an American family who gave him the last name Wright and brought him to the United States. On the day of his high school graduation, his adoptive family was killed in a car accident, which presumably led to his homelessness.
Those who know him best say he's not intimidating. “Even with a knife, he's not a threatening presence,” says Michael Fierstein, founder of Big Joy Records and longtime volunteer at the Smell. In fact, most everyone has seen the knife, which he is not afraid to show off – as a weapon of security – to those he seeks to protect. No one's actually seen him pull it out in an aggressive fashion.
The Smell's owner Smith admits that Wright-Fresco can be a nuisance at times, and often appears to be in hair-trigger survival mode – probably normal for someone who's lived on Skid Row for well over a decade.
One word kept coming up from those describing him: harmless. In general, people feel he's lived up to his self-applied task of maintaining order in the area surrounding the Smell.
“When he's not there he's missed,” says Smith. “We can't wait to have him back.”
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