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How LA's Skid Row became what it is today




Homeless people rest on a public sidewalk February 28, 2013 in downtown skid row area of Los Angeles, California.
Homeless people rest on a public sidewalk February 28, 2013 in downtown skid row area of Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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"Skid Row" – it's a term used to describe the part of any city that's seedy, rough and dangerous. The bad part of town.

The phrase comes from 19th century Seattle to describe the unsavory street that lined the path where logs were dragged and skidded into Elliott Bay on their way to a lumber mill.

Many cities had their own version of Skid Row, too. It was called the Bowery in New York. San Francisco has the Tenderloin.

But in Seattle, gone are the brothels and gambling parlors. They've been replaced by art galleries and book stores to go along with the area's new name Pioneer Square.

And while the Tenderloin is still around, all you have to know about how the Bowery has changed is that there's now a Whole Foods.

But Los Angeles is the only place left in the country with a neighborhood to hold onto that official name: Skid Row. 

How did it become what it is today? A place where homeless people can find help, and a place where police had a brief scuffle with a man before they shot him?

Don Spivack says his former organization, the LA Community Redevelopment Agency, was a key player in shaping the neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1975, it pushed forward a redevelopment plan that would contain services for the homeless and mentally disturbed within that specific area – Third Street to the north, Alameda Street on the east, Seventh Street to the south and Main Street on the west.

The idea had its pros and cons.

On the one hand, it prevented developers from overtaking the area so that service organizations and low-income housing could remain. It also made help more accessible because many were concentrated in a small part of town.

On the other, it kept the rest of the city from confronting its homeless problem.

Hear more about Skid Row's history by clicking on the blue player above.