History of Skid Row and the Trust


photo by: Mike Park

Skid Row  is an area of approximately 50 square blocks located just east of downtown Los Angeles. Also known as Central City East, the area has a longstanding history as a residential neighborhood for those with the least.

Since the early 20th century, many of the City’s working poor, unemployed, disabled and otherwise marginalized residents have found homes in the single-room occupancy hotels located throughout this relatively small neighborhood. But between 1950 and 2000, 15,000 residential hotel apartments, the most affordable housing in Los Angeles, were destroyed, threatening Skid Row’s residential community and forcing thousands of people onto the City’s shelters and sidewalks.

In 1989, community activists and business leaders of Los Angeles’ downtown community responded to the alarming disappearance of affordable, permanent housing by coming together to create Skid Row Housing Trust. The Trust swiftly mobilized private equity through low income tax credits, public finance and conventional debt to salvage hundreds of housing apartments that would have been otherwise lost.

Dilapidated hotels were renovated and transformed into safe, attractive and affordable permanent housing in which low-income and formerly homeless men and women could live and thrive.

Over the past twenty five years the Trust has refined its homes to provide not just housing but a supportive community as well. The Trust has increasingly targeted its homes to long-term homeless and disabled men and women, with an emphasis on co-locating housing and services together. By providing an integrated approach to housing, primary healthcare, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and counseling, the Trust provides many of the tools needed to overcome the causes of homelessness.

The combination of beautifully designed, high quality housing, professional property management, and innovative social service provision has made Skid Row Housing Trust the national leader in ending homelessness.

Early History of Skid Row

The term “Skid Row” originated during the construction of the railroads in the mid-19th century. The first railroad construction began in the Pacific Northwest, where tracks made from harvested logs were sent to construction sites along “skid roads.” These “roads” also were built from logs and their purpose was to make it much easier to keep the logs rolling along the heavily muddied streets around sites.

The workers who built the railroads were mostly transient, immigrant men. As the construction took hold, businesses that catered to these men sprang up – usually brothels and taverns for the most part. Since the men were far away from their families and homes, single room occupancy (SRO) hotels were built to house them.

When the men were working, they had money to spend on prostitution, liquor and hotels. But employment was often seasonal and scarce. When the men were out of work, they wound up often drunk and sleeping in the streets. Alcoholism grew among this population of men. The religious community responded to their needs by opening shelters to house, feed and proselytize to the men. These neighborhoods were considered seedy, dangerous and dirty. Because of the “skid roads” that were in the center of the neighborhoods, they became known as “Skid Rows.”

Towards the end of 19th century the rail lines were built in Los Angeles to connect Southern California to the rest of the country. The railroads were constructed to end just east of the historic core of Los Angeles, which was the bustling downtown core of the city at the time. As in other urban areas, the brothels, bars, SRO hotels, and missions developed to serve first the men who worked on the railroads, and later men who traveled west on the railroads in search of work and opportunity.

Since its inception at the end of the 19th century Los Angeles’ Skid Row has been defined by the mix of cheap residential hotels, industry, and religious missions and the people they serve, ranging from workers to those down on their luck to the poor and disabled.

20th Century

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, LA’s Skid Row saw an infusion of men from the rest of the United States heading West in hopes of earning a living. Often, they wound up on Skid Row, where they could find housing, food or shelter of some kind.

The pattern of this transient population continued into and past the Depression well into the 1950’s and 1960’s. But the 1970’s saw a dramatic and profound change. Where once the population had been dominated mostly by men who suffered from alcoholism, the 70’s brought Vietnam veterans and heavy drug users. In addition, legislation was passed to deinstitutionalize hospitals serving individuals with severe mental illness. Well meaning as this was, the government did not follow through on the community treatment needed to stabilize these individuals outside of hospitals. With nowhere to go, many wound up in Skid Row, where services and shelters were the only help available to them.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s many of the residential hotels fell into disrepair. The city increased building and safety code enforcement of the residential hotels and many owners found it cheaper to demolish the hotels, rather than comply with work orders. The stock of affordable housing provided through the residential hotels was reduced by half during this period and many residents found themselves unable to afford other housing and now homeless.

These years also saw the deterioration of entire inner cities across the entire country. Residents with the resources moved out of urban areas and into the suburbs. To address the growing urban blight issue, a “War on Poverty” was declared by then President Lyndon Johnson. With government funding, commercial interest in urban revitalization grew.

In Los Angeles the urban revitalization began with the Bunker Hill redevelopment (which also displaced many low income residents). Business interests and developers expressed concern that Skid Row and the homeless population downtown would hamper economic development opportunities.

In the 1970’s Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was facing increasing pressure to address the issue, but it was an ethical and moral dilemma. Displacement of the poor and disabled had only increased homelessness downtown. The city clearly needed a new approach. Mayor Bradley created a special Blue Ribbon Commission charged with coming up with a response to the dilemma.

After much study and consideration, the commission recommended that the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), which collected and managed developers’ fees paid to the city and generated tax increment financing, use those fees to care for and house the homeless. The commission recommended that the CRA fund residential development in Skid Row to preserve the community for its low income residents and provide decent housing for them. The recommendation was that all housing and services for the homeless be centered in the Skid Row neighborhood where they would both be protected for the pressures of gentrification, but also concentrate the homeless away from Bunker Hill and the new financial core of the city.

 Skid Row Housing Trust

During this time neighborhood activists lobbied City Hall and organized civic leaders around the idea of preserving, rather than demolishing the SRO hotels. Advocates lobbied City Hall to pass a moratorium on SRO demolitions or conversions. In 1989 the moratorium was passed protecting the remaining residential hotels in the community and throughout the city for five years.

Skid Row Housing Trust was founded by business and civic leaders to respond to the loss of residential hotels by preserving and rehabilitating the remaining hotels. From its beginning in 1989, the Trust and its board were committed to insuring that their buildings were created with architectural beauty and design to replace slums with true homes. With its emphasis on award winning and nationally recognized architectural style and design, the Trust has proven that affordable housing does not need to be isolated from the rest of the city and can handsomely co-exist in revitalized areas.

The Trust was also one of the national pioneers to combine permanent housing and on-site social services, known as “permanent supportive housing.” By providing homeless men and women with a permanent home (as opposed to temporary shelter), and the treatment and services needed to stabilize disabilities and crises, the Trust ensured that formerly homeless residents would never become homeless again.

The Trust’s dual focus on improving lives and the surrounding neighborhood has helped define the Downtown Los Angeles community. Since its opening, the Trust has helped hundreds of men and women reshape their lives and regain hope. That hope has transformed city blocks, catalyzing the restoration and creation of residential buildings that will result in a diverse, inclusive city where everyone has a place to call home.


The Trust is founded. Pershing Roma Hotel and the Genesis Hotel are completed.


The Crescent Hotel, Hart Hotel, Las Americas Hotel, Simone Hotel and St. Mark’s Hotel are completed.


The Olympia Hotel, Sanborn Hotel are completed. Supportive Housing Program is created.


Produce Place and Hotel and the Senator Hotel are completed.


Edward Hotel is completed. The Skid Row Housing Trust Property Management Company is created.


The Boyd Hotel, Rossmore Hotel and Weldon Hotel completed.

Trust is awarded U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to create the Innovative Housing Program


Shelter Plus Care program at the Simone Hotel is created.


San Pedro House is completed.


Dewey Hotel and Lincoln Hotel completed.


St. George Hotel is completed.

Awarded federal Chronic Homelessness Initiative grant to create the Skid Row Collaborative and provide integrated services in housing


Rainbow Apartments are completed.


Partners with Los Angeles County to create Project 50


Completes the Abbey Apartments and awarded Los Angeles County Housing and Homelessness Prevention grant to create the Integrated Services in Housing program at the Abbey Apartments.


The New Carver opens. The New Carver has an innovative open courtyard on the interior, won the Trust’s second American Institute of Architects design award.


Charles Cobb Apartments opens.


The New Genesis Apartments opens. The New Genesis Apartments includes mixed-use, mixed income and artist loft unites, as well as commercial space.


The Star Apartments opens. The Star Apartments, with its innovate design and 15,000 square feet of open air space, as well as a Department of Health Services clinic on the ground floor, represents a new paradigm in how we address homelessness. Trust residents from the other buildings are welcome to use all of the community space and amenities at the Star.


The Six opens. With 52 apartments and studios for formerly homeless individuals, it is the Trust’s first development with permanent supportive housing specifically for veterans.


The Crest Apartments opens. The Crest provides 64 homes to Los Angeles County’s most vulnerable homeless individuals, with comprehensive onsite supportive services to help them build healthier and more stable lives. All of Crest Apartments’ permanent supportive housing is reserved for homeless individuals who are frequent utilizers of Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services’ emergency care, including 23 apartments set aside specifically for homeless veterans. The Trust partners with San Fernando Valley-based L.A. Family Housing to provide comprehensive case management, and The John Stewart Company for property management services.


Construction began for Six Four Nine Lofts at 7th & Wall Streets in Downtown Los Angeles. This community will be home to 55 people, with the first three floors hosting the Joshua House Clinic – a 25,000 square foot health clinic operated by LA Christian Health Centers. This clinic will be open to not only the residents above it, but to everyone on Skid Row who needs quality and compassionate primary and mental healthcare, and linkages to housing and services.


Continuing to change the landscape of Skid Row with dignified homes, construction also began on Flor 401 Lofts at 7 & Wall and SP7 at 7th & San Julian. In total there are currently 254 homes in construction on 7th Street, and more in the pipeline for Los Angeles and beyond.

Six Four Nine Lofts and the Joshua House Health Clinic to the left, Flor 401 Lofts to the right.

“This is where you go when you lose everything and start over.”