Kevork Djansezian - Pool/Getty Images
Sneh Chachra a student of Inner City Arts greets Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge after she arrived with her husband Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, for a tour of the school on July 10, 2011 in the Skid Row section of Los Angeles.
The big news in Los Angeles celebrity gossip this weekend was, of course, the visit of Prince William and Princess Catherine.
The Royal Couple were spotted in Hancock Park. They kissed on a polo field in Santa Barbara. They hobnobbed with Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lopez at a Hollywood party.
And on Sunday, they visited Inner-City Arts, a school that teaches art to kids living on L.A.'s Skid Row.
Outside the Inner-City Arts compound, a crowd waited with signs and miniature British flags.
“We’re from South Texas and we came all the way just to see Will and Kate," says one Royals fan, Farrin Gustafson. "Growing up as a kid I watched Princess Diana and Prince Charles' wedding like it was a movie. I missed a day of school when she died. I went and saw her dresses when they toured through San Antonio. Seeing Prince William is on my bucket list.”
“She has a really big princess addiction," says her friend Stephen Gaeth.
“I am sooo excited," says Gustafson, laughing.
They’re wearing matching shirts with silk-screened pictures of the smiling faces of the duke and duchess of Cambridge.
Gustafson has her camera phone at the ready. She’s hoping for a shot of Prince William waving or Kate Middleton stepping elegantly out of a car.
She almost had a run-in with the pair on Wilshire Boulevard, but they left before she saw them. “And I cried in the hotel room because I missed it," says Gustafson. "So I didn’t have a problem at all coming down to Skid Row. I didn’t know where it was at all so it’s exciting to be here.”
To her, Skid Row is a bit of a celebrity, too, or at least one version of it.
“I know about Skid Row because of the movie and the play 'Little Shop of Horrors.'" Gustafson says. She laughs. "That’s the only reason I know what Skid Row is.”
“We’re theater majors," says Gaeth.
Down about half a block from the crowd of royal watchers is a different Skid Row.
“Why are they coming this way man?" says Skid Row resident Carlos Chavez. "They could be down at Beverly Hills where all that money is at and they’ve got to come to Skid Row?”
Chavez is standing outside a convenience store with a handful of other locals.
Leaning against the wall is a guy named James. He wouldn’t give a last name.
“I don’t get excited nothing anymore," says James. "What’s the deal? He’s not a god.”
There’s a lot of skepticism on this end of the block.
Locals point out that Skid Row is no Buckingham Palace. Almost half the population live below the poverty line and there are several homeless shelters in the area.
William and Kate are on Skid Row to visit Inner-City Arts, a place where neighborhood kids learn to paint or dance.
Skid Row native Eskar Nolan is proud of that program. But he says, with the camera crews and newly cleaned sidewalks, the royals aren’t seeing what really goes on.
“This looks nice doesn’t it? Two blocks over people are sleeping on the streets," says Nolan. "They have nothing to eat and nowhere to go. When they leave and take a plane and go somewhere else, will we be forgotten on Skid Row?”
“I mean this is actually good. Any time you get publicity to Skid Row it’s great," says Jeff Page. He's kind of like Mr. Skid Row, he sporting an ID tag on his navy blue blazer announcing the name of his neighborhood.
“I’m a Skid Row community activist and a Skid Row resident," says Page. "I’m here to show the other side of Skid Row. That we’re not all lazy homeless bums. We actually have intelligent and sophisticated individuals that reside here in Skid Row that are just having economic difficulties.”
Page works with musicians and artists in Downtown L.A. to show off what his neighborhood has to offer. He thinks William and Kate’s visit proves that Downtown is getting better.
“And it’s great for all these out-of-towners and folks that look like they are coming from out of the country to be here, and it’s just such a peaceful environment," says Page. "And there is no sense of any reason to be scared or people to fear for their lives, so it’s absolutely wonderful.”
Around noon, the antsy crowd starts chanting, "William and Catherine, come say hi! William and Catherine, come say hi!" Then a motorcade rolls down the street, followed by a big black SUV. William and Kate are riding inside. The crowd cheers and someone yells out, "Welcome to Skid Row!"
But the SUV doesn’t stop. It pulls into a garage at Inner-City Arts and just like that, the royals are gone. The crowd groans. Someone cries out "Son of... They went the other way."
The crowd starts to disperse. Royals obsessive Farrin Gustafson is still clutching her camera phone.
“I wouldn’t say disappointed," says Gustafson. "I got to see them. They drove past to go to the fine arts center and he waved and I saw it and it was wonderful. I am not going to completely cross it off my bucket list cause I didn’t get to meet them but it was definitely exciting. I could cry right now.” Gustafson laughs.
As the TV crews pack up, Jeff Page, the man with the Skid Row name tag, stands on the sidewalk and watches.
“Yeah, this is pretty much what I anticipated," says Page. "As soon as they are gone, the cameras are gone, the crowd is gone. Now we return back to the same Skid Row that it was before they got here. So now we will see what after-effects their visit will have on our community.”
Page says maybe the higher profile will draw more activists to Skid Row. Maybe a big donor will bankroll a new project like Inner-City Arts. But, he says, if nothing else, at least the street look a little cleaner.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also visited Tusk Trust, an African wildlife conservation group in Beverly Hills Sunday morning, and finished off their L.A. visit to at the Mission Serve "Hiring our Heroes" job fair for military veterans in Culver City. William addressed the crowd briefly and the couple also helped pack care packages for children with parents who are serving abroad.
They left from LAX Sunday afternoon, ending their 2 1/2-day Southland visit.