Hey everybody thanks for tuning in to
Los Angelist and thanks especially to my patrons on Patreon for making this
channel possible. When I set out to make my second video about the West Santa
Ana branch, Metro’s exciting new rail lines from downtown Los Angeles to
Artesia, and eventually beyond to Orange County, I thought the difficult part would be figuring out exactly which route it
should take into downtown LA. But as it turned out, determining which of the
routes being studied by Metro for the West Santa Ana branch’s route to
downtown made sense was actually the easy part;
This one. We need to build this one. But how did it become so clear to me that
the Santa Ana branch should be routed down Alameda and 5th instead of
terminating at Union Station as had been assumed previously? Well the first reason
is simple and practical – there is a lot going on at Union Station, and I mean a
LOT. See, when large ambitious infrastructure projects go over their
intended budgets, only very rarely are the actual construction workers and
contractors themselves to blame. In truth cost overruns are seldom due to
human error but rather the addition of new variables to projects that the
planners would not and could not conceivably have been able to predict
beforehand, no matter how smart or talented they were.
For example the recent cost overruns on Metro’s regional connector project were
in truth neither the fault of Metro staff nor the contractors hired by them.
What actually happened is that over the last several hundred years, residents of
Los Angeles had buried a lot of metal garbage in what is now our downtown core. But since nobody had bothered to keep any records of all the crap buried
deep below 2nd and flower streets, the regional connectors tunnel-boring
machine repeatedly had to be repaired after chewing through hunks of buried
metal which were never supposed to be there. Since no cost effective method to
scan for buried metal as deeply as the future blue and gold line tunnels has
been invented yet, there would have been no way for Metro to reasonably predict
it was there in the first place. To put it simply, the more variables involved in
a transit project the more likely it is that project will cost more than it was
expected to. So if we want all the exciting upgrades to passenger rail
service at Union Station to continue moving forward without a hitch, it’s
probably for the best that we wait for the dust to settle and allow Metro an
opportunity to finish building the ambitious new train concourse they have
designed before trying to cram another light rail line in alongside the
existing Gold Line platform. But if the West Santa Ana branch won’t be
terminating at Union Station just yet where should it go? It was time to talk
about Skid Row. The poverty in Skid Row is so unnecessary, so extensive and so
objectively appalling that the United Nations monitor on extreme poverty was
recently given a tour of the neighborhood by the de facto president
of its neighborhood council, General Dogon. Upon conclusion of the tour UN monitor
Philip Alston was reported to have remarked that “I think it’s on a scale I
hadn’t anticipated, block after block of people” and that “when you see how
concentrated it is, it’s more shocking.” Quite frankly anyone privileged enough
to sleep with a roof over their head is probably not going to be able to speak
credibly on the subject of Skid Row something that Mayor Garcetti himself
learned the hard way when he attempted to present General Dogon with an award
for his humanitarian activism efforts shortly after the aforementioned visit
from the United Nations. General Dogon tore the award
up in Mayor Garcetti’s face. But what happened to Skid Row? How could any neighborhood get this bad? Who did this? We did. Or more specifically,
urban renewal did this. See, up until the opening of Union
Station in 1939, Skid Row was not just an important neighborhood but the most
important neighborhood in Los Angeles The first taste of LA newcomers would
see upon arriving at the Southern Pacific Depot at 5th and Central would
have been a diverse and lively working-class neighborhood. But the
majority white electorate of 1930s Los Angeles didn’t want the first
neighborhood everybody would see and associate with Los Angeles to be the one
most celebrated and cherished by working people of color, and so the city paid for
a new train station to be built far away from what was then the lively cosmopolitan neighborhood of Central City East. In the late 1950s, Southern Pacific’s grand old Central Depot, the first sight of LA to all those who arrived here by train from
1914 to 1939, was demolished and replaced with what can only be construed as a
deliberate insult – a hideous meatpacking facility that still occupies what was
long the most important intersection in all of LA.
As those of you who subscribed to the channel and support me on Patreon may
already be aware, it has recently become clear to me that if we’re ever to undo
the harm that has been done to Skid Row we must rebuild and restore that which
right rightfully belongs to Skid Row; Central Depot. But Skid Row isn’t my
neighborhood. Skid Row is General Dogon’s neighborhood. So I hopped on a
packed Metro 18 bus from near 7th Street Metro Center to the site of what
was once LA’s most important train station, where I met up with Dogon
himself to discuss the idea of restoring some of the public resources that have
been wrongly taken away from the residents of Skid Row since 1939,
beginning with the reconstruction of Central Depot on its original location
at 5th and Central as both a functional metro rail station a retail
hub and most importantly a community center. General Dogon, organizer. LACAN
human rights organizer. So yeah as far as I, you know, historically, I been born and raised on Skid Row. My parents met back in the 50s. I was born nine months later over here in General Hospital. Been downtown ever since. Got
my first job downtown, got my addiction downtown, been around downtown! Now I’m a human rights organizer trying to make some changes. But anyway, far as I’m concerned, Skid Row was
created as a containment zone. When I was a kid, when I was a kid I remember there was no homeless folks. me, You had what they called “Winos” you know, people hanging around, you understand me. but that was about it. But the majority of Skid Row right here, you know, it was created as a containment zone, you know, historically. When you look at where we at downtown it’s the WAREHOUSE district. And this was like Los Angeles’s Ellis Island right up until about 1939 when they built Union Station.
And back then you would say Skid Row started to change, wouldn’t you say? Oh yeah great! So yeah, that’s a good point right there because I can go back a little bit farther than that. I Know Biddy Mason, she used to be a slave, she ended up buying her way out of slavery, right and ended up coming to LA, you know, with some Indians. [The Tongva right?] Yeah, and some Latinos. You know, way back yonder. And she owned a lot of the property along around
by Broadway. In fact, she got a park called Biddy Mason Park right there on 4th and Broadway. [Oh yeah, that’s what that’s named for!] Exactly, Biddy Mason Park. So we had settlers that was here a long time ago that was people of color, you know? [Right! Californios.] Exactly. But I… you know when Alex told me, you know, you understand me, that this used to be a train station, that this used to be like the depot part, the welcoming center to the city of Angeles. [Exactly.]
When you look at the rest of it and how it sprang out it fits perfect!
Because there’s city hall just a ‘throne’s throw’ away from here you got city hall.
You got the welcome right here then you got the city hall building right here
right? And then as soon as you go here you got the rest of the city just, like, opening up to you. So this would be the perfect idea. To have such a welcome center right here like in the past in the 30’s, but… So this street was like LA’s MAIN Street [Exactly, exactly.] right up until they closed down the old station. What they said essentially when they did that the way I see it, city hall said this neighborhood doesn’t matter because this is the most diverse neighborhood in LA, and this is the most cosmopolitan his neighborhood in Los Angeles and we don’t
want the most diverse neighborhood to be the first neighborhood people see when
they get to Los Angeles. And that’s the real reason Union Station was built.
Union Station is a beautiful terminal, I love that building. But that’s the dark
secret of Union Station – it was built to disempower this neighborhood.
Union Station being constructed actually created Skid Row. I see that’s the bad
part about it, because you take away take away the culture with places, understand me? Just like when I go to Louisiana I don’t wanna see other tourists down there, I wanna see the people that’s there! I want to know it as their I want to see
them youngsters and a grand band on the corner bangin’ [yeah, yeah] I want to see the people walking around in their natural state you know? Understand me? I want to see the culture
the atmosphere [you want to feel the city, yeah!] and that’s what everybody want to see. Understand me? The reality. The culture.
The historical part of it, understand me? [yeah] I don’t want you to take that away from
gentrification – to make it look like something that it’s not. So you’re saying essentially
that like what we got to do is when… We have to reinvest in these neighborhoods, like
we can’t continue having no investment in Skid Row. [Exactly, exactly] But what should that investment look like to you? So the investments should bring back the
culture the nationality of it of course, understand me? It’s like you say, you said it from the beginning. LA, understand me, is one of the most diverse communities probably in the whole nation. [And this was
the most diverse neighborhood in the most diverse city. Exactly, when I was a
kid – I’m gonna tell you – when I was a kid I used to be downtown, I used to be at the
nightclubs, I used to be at the bar, you know what I’m saying? Places used to be open until 2, 3, 4 O’Clock in the morning, understand me? Swingin’ – black folks, white folks, Chinese – I mean, it didn’t matter! I was telling Alex earlier that even the gang members got
along. The Crips and the Bloods they declared a peace treaty downtown because
they realized that hey, this is a cultural spot this is the spot for everybody. [Neutral territory if you will.] Exactly, yeah this week you can see me
down here shopping with my girlfriend my wife my kids, you know, getting back to
school clothes, going to get something to eat. Yeah because it was the hub it was where everybody came for central stuff. [yeah] Understand me? Whether you came shopping, whether you
came to a nightclub, whether you came to see a theater, [yeah] whether you just come to just kick back and have some fun in the sunshine [right on man] This was the place to be! This was the spot right here! Yeah that might’ve been there for a while. And this building look like it used to be something else. [You see a lot of those] The one that say ‘governor’? [yeah, yeah] but
all the rest of them… you can see it’s all new. That’s like an 80’s style building right there.
[yeah right here, this is where…] that’s the Salvation Army right there. [That’s what
that is?] Yeah this used to be a men’s drug and
alcohol program, I had to get.. well I didn’t have to get clean and sober I wasn’t on drugs. I just had the monkey, he was talking to me, he was on my back talking to me… [yeah, I already know!] Just stuck there about 45 days, but that was a men’s drug and alcohol program and it’s been closed for at least about 10 years now, man. Yeah a lot of history in LA people it’s layered but people don’t like to sort
through the layers and see it for themselves. And it’s just like I say – the perfect gateway to the city cause you guys see how can you not miss city hall right there? See when you look like… know the truth about something, you know? It hits you like a lightning bolt, you know? And just think, that this is where the opening of the city Los Angeles was. This is where people came at from all over the world when they would first walk through the city of Los Angeles, they would have to come through here. And when you look at it, the structure, the way it’s designed, you would see it’s that right (of) way cause it’s like a parade, right! Right? You come through here and you feeling all good and – Hey! Welcome to LA! I just got my drink over here. Ayy! We got a party. We gonna roll down the boulevard, stroll down the street [that’s old 5th!] You keep going, you go right… I mean you can see it! It’s a roadmap all the way down to the city [so this was…] and you go straight down, right? This was like LA’s Ellis Island. Like this is the grand entrance – this was the most important part of Los Angeles. Exactly, exactly. And you know what? It fits perfectly and I see it in my mind, you know. What was that, about 80 years ago? Yeah I can pretty much see it how it was like I was standing there today Skid Row was the most important neighborhood in Los Angeles. [Exactly] And where we’re standing right now
with this meatpacking plant right behind us – this was Central Station. And this was the entrance to Los Angeles [exactly] this was the most important place in LA because it would be the first thing that anybody would
see when they arrived in Los Angeles would be this beautiful, rich, diverse
neighborhood. But city hall didn’t like that. They didn’t like that that would be the first thing people would see when they
arrived in Los Angeles back in the 1930s and [right smack in the middle of
Jim Crow segregation] right smack in the middle of segregation, they did not want
Los Angeles to be seen as the diverse lively city that it always has been. [Exactly]
They wanted to create a false image of Los Angeles. That’s why Union Station is away
from everything. That’s why it’s separated from the city – it’s such a
beautiful historic building but that’s the dark secret of Union Station
is that it was created at the expense of what is now Skid Row.
It essentially… Union Station created Skid Row and if we want to fix Skid Row
the only way we can do that is by rebuilding what was taken from Skid Row
– specifically, exactly as it was, while addressing the needs of the community that lives here now. You said the magic words when you said that it’s a black secret the
city done, you know, understand me? It’s a racial black secret, understand me? [yeah] Understand me, that people need to know about. Because when you know about it, you know you understand me, you say wow! Understand me? It’s so wrong for you to come and just destroy people’s culture, you know? [yea] You know, take people’s history like that. And so for me? I would most definitely
say that with the implementation of a city entrance like this – we rebuild this
back again? [Yeah] Oh! It would up-bring the whole city, right!
You know? Not only spark Skid Row and bring a new face to Skid Row, but it’d also brighten up the rest of downtown as well.