Arts & Entertainment

Downtown LA exhibit to showcase modern Skid Row's founding documents

A projector above the books will be able to detect what page the reader is on, and highlight certain passages.
A projector above the books will be able to detect what page the reader is on, and highlight certain passages.
Courtesy Los Angeles Poverty Department
A projector above the books will be able to detect what page the reader is on, and highlight certain passages.
The Skid Row History Museum and Archive opens Saturday at 440 Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.
Courtesy Los Angeles Poverty Department
A projector above the books will be able to detect what page the reader is on, and highlight certain passages.
Planning documents, archival photos and video will project on the museum's walls as attendees browse the books.
Courtesy Los Angeles Poverty Department
A projector above the books will be able to detect what page the reader is on, and highlight certain passages.
Planning documents, archival photos and video will project on the museum's walls as attendees browse the books.
Courtesy Los Angeles Poverty Department
A projector above the books will be able to detect what page the reader is on, and highlight certain passages.
The two plans envisioned very different futures for Skid Row.
Courtesy Los Angeles Poverty Department


Some of the earliest biblical manuscripts may be on display further south at California ScienCenter, but a new downtown gallery and community space will be exhibiting the founding texts of Los Angeles' Skid Row this weekend.

The interactive exhibit, "Blue Book/ Silver Book" opening Saturday at the Skid Row History Museum and Archive, a "pop up" performance and community space on Broadway. 

The two books represent two competing plans, known as the "silver book plan" and the "blue book plan." The pair detailed competing visions for the Skid Row area in the mid-1970s. 

Laid out side by side on a table, the two books will be available to browse. Above them, a projector and camera can detect what page the reader is on and highlight certain passages, as well as display supplemental video, photos and other archival material related to the page on the gallery walls.

"The whole room kind of comes alive and is activated by flipping through these books," said San Francisco software developer and archivist Robert Ochshorn, who worked with artist John Malpede on the project. "So there's an understanding you can get without being behind the controls, without being behind the books."

The silver book plan was developed first in 1972 by a consortium of business groups and the Community Redevelopment Agency, famous locally for its 'redevelopment' of nearby Bunker Hill. Its plan, approved in 1975, called for the removal of the area's many residential buildings and the creation of a massive facility to house and heal the remaining vagrant population. 

"The residential population would have been completely disappeared,"  Malpede said, "which is what happened on Bunker hill." 

The blue book plan, created in response, was a grassroots initiative to offer a competing solution that offered a more detailed plan, and excluded the heavy-handed CRA. That, Malpede said, was eventually adopted and became the blueprint for the city's policies in Skid Row. 

"At that moment, the boundaries of Skid Row — Main Street on the west, 7th Street on the south, 3rd Street on the north and Central Avenue on the east — became official policy and became a recognized neighborhood," he said. "It really saved the neighborhood from being obliterated."

Ochshorn said the technological approach to "Blue Book / Silver Book, " which marries portions of the museum's archive with the two plans, developed from research he'd been doing as an archivist. 

"I've been questioning the assumption that a digital archive has to be understood through a web browser, through a small screen in a private space," he said. "I've been very interested in physical representations of collections and archives." 

Ochshorn had been working on a tool that allowed viewers to flip through the pages in a binder to control the projection of a collection of videos. 

"That kind of created the possibility of using the books directly as the interface of the exhibition," Ochshorn said.

The exhibition coincides with the opening of the  Skid Row History Museum and Archive, run by Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty Department. The performance art and activist organization has deep roots in Skid Row that date back to the mid-'80s.

The museum has plans for at least four other shows, and will be hosting readings and workshops, Malpede said, as well as a new digital archive of Skid Row history, containing about 2,700 browsable planning documents, videos, interviews and photos.

The Skid Row History Museum and Archive at 440 Broadway will be open Thursdays and Saturdays from 2:00 - 5:00 p.m. and Fridays from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m.  "Blue Book/ Silver Book" will be on display from April 11 through June 27, 2015. An opening reception takes place Saturday, April 11 from 6 to 9 p.m.