Skid row

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This article is about high-vagrancy neighborhoods. For other uses, see Skid row (disambiguation).
Two photos of the original "Skid Road" (Mill Street, now Yesler Way) in Seattle, Washington. Top: View looking west to Yesler's Mill at the end of the street (see smokestack) and nearby cookhouse; the tall pole in the road on the right is where the Pioneer Square pergola stands today, (1874) Bottom: Yesler's Mill, stores, and taverns on Skid Road

Skid row or skid road is a shabby urban area with cheap taverns, dive bars, and dilapidated hotels frequented by lowlifes, alcoholics, and itinerants.[1] The term skid road originally referred to the path along which timber workers skidded logs.[2] Its current sense appears to have originated in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.[3] Areas identified by this name include Pioneer Square in Seattle;[4] Old Town Chinatown in Portland, Oregon;[5] Downtown Eastside in Vancouver; Skid Row in Los Angeles; the Tenderloin District of San Francisco; the Saint Catherine street District in Montreal; and the Bowery of lower Manhattan.

Origins[edit]

The term "skid road" dates back to the 17th century, when it referred to a log road, used to skid or drag logs through woods and bog.[3] The term was in common usage in the mid-19th century and came to refer not just to the corduroy roads themselves, but to logging camps and mills all along the Pacific Coast.When a logger was fired he was "sent down the skid road."[6]

The source of the term "skid road" as an urban district is heavily debated, and is generally identified as originating in either Seattle or Vancouver.[3]

Seattle[edit]

The name "Skid Road" was in use in Seattle by 1865 when the city's historic Pioneer Square neighborhood began to expand from its commercial core.[7] The district centered near the end of what is now Yesler Way, often said to have been the original "Skid Road" in the literal sense serving a saw mill owned by Henry Yesler.[citation needed]

Henry Yesler acquired land from Doc Maynard at a small point of land at what is today near the intersection of 1st Ave and Yesler Way.[citation needed] He also acquired a swath of land 450 feet wide from his property up First Hill to a box of land about 10 acres in size full of timber spanning what is today 20th to 30th Avenues.[citation needed] His steam-powered logging mill was built in 1853[7] on the point of land that looked south towards a small island (Denny's Island, part of his land purchase from Doc Maynard) that has since been filled in around and is the heart of today's Pioneer Square. The mill operated seven days a week, 24 hours per day on the waterfront.[7] The street's end near the mill, attracted cookhouses and inexpensive hotels for itinerant workers, along with several establishments that served beer and liquor.[7]

The Skid Road was built on that 450 foot wide slice of land from the top of First Hill to the logging mill on the point.[citation needed] Timber cut in nearby forests was greased and skidded down a long, steeply sloping dirt road.[7] Since the building of the mill much of what is today's Seattle is the result of extensive terra-forming by the local people to make the hilly landscape of Seattle habitable. At the time of the building of the mill it was some of the only flat land available. The Skid Road became the demarcation line between the affluent members of Seattle and the mill workers and more rowdy portion of the population.[8] The road became Mill Street, and eventually Yesler Way, but the nickname "Skid Road" was permanently associated with the district at the street's end.[7]

Vancouver[edit]

Main article: Downtown Eastside

The 100-block of East Hastings Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, the heart of that city's "skid road" neighborhood, lies on a historical skid road. The Vancouver Skid Road was part of a complex of such roads in the dense forests surrounding the Hastings Mill and adjacent to the settlement of Granville, Burrard Inlet (Gastown).[9]

The city began as a sawmill settlement called Granville, in the early 1870s.[10] By at least the 1950s, "Skid Road" was commonly used to describe the more dilapidated areas in the city's Downtown Eastside,[11] which is focused on the original "strip" along East Hastings Street due to a concentration of single room occupancy hotels (SROs) and associated drinking establishments in the area. The area's seedy origins date back to the early concentration of saloons in pre-Canadian Prohibition (1915–1919) and its popularity with loggers, miners and fishermen whose work was seasonal and who spent their salaries in the area's cheap accommodations and public houses.[citation needed]

Opium and heroin use became popular early on; Vancouver was for many years the main port-of-entry for the North American opium supply. During the Great Depression, the railway rights-of-way and other vacant lots in the area were thronged by the unemployed and poor, and the pattern of social decay became well-established. In the 1970s, the endemic alcohol and poverty problems in the area were exacerbated by the expansion of the drug trade, with crack cocaine becoming high-profile in the 1980s as well as a reconcentration of the prostitution trade in the area because of the relocation of hooker strolls in conjunction with city policy for Expo 86.[citation needed]

A portion of Vancouver's Skid Row, Gastown, has also been gentrified; however it is in a difficult coexistence with the nearby impoverished Downtown Eastside along East Hastings Street.[citation needed]

The poorest urban area in Canada,[12] it is wedged between Downtown, Chinatown and Gastown. These areas are frequented by tourists, and East Hastings Street is a major thoroughfare. These avenues of exposure make the Downtown Eastside a highly visible example of a skid row. The Downtown Eastside (sometimes abbreviated D.T.E.S.) is also home to Insite, the only legal intravenous drug safe injection site in North America, part of a harm reduction policy aimed at helping the area's drug addicted residents.[citation needed]

Los Angeles[edit]

Local homeless count estimates have ranged from 3,668 to 5,131. In 2011, the homeless population estimate for Los Angeles' Skid Row was 4,316.[13] L.A.'s Skid Row is sometimes called "the Nickel", referring to a section of Fifth Street.[14]

Several of the city's homeless and social-service providers (such as Weingart Center Association, Volunteers of America, Frontline Foundation, Midnight Mission, Union Rescue Mission and Downtown Women's Center) are based in Skid Row. Between 2005 and 2007, several local hospitals and suburban law-enforcement agencies were accused by Los Angeles Police Department and other officials of transporting those homeless people in their care to Skid Row.[15][16]

In recent years, the Safer City Initiative set to clean up Skid Row was enacted by the city and police department and has resulted in dramatic changes in the area.[17]

San Francisco[edit]

O'Farrell Street in the Tenderloin section of downtown San Francisco, near Union Square

The Tenderloin neighborhood is a small, dense neighborhood near downtown San Francisco. In addition to its history and diverse and artistic community, there is significant poverty, homelessness, and crime.[18]

It is known for its immigrant populations, single room occupancy hotels, ethnic restaurants, bars and clubs, alternative arts scene, large homeless population, public transit and close proximity to Union Square, the Financial District, and Civic Center.[18] The 2000 census reported a population of 28,991 persons, with a population density of 44,408/mi² (17,146/km²), in the Tenderloin's 94102 Zip Code Tabulation Area, which also includes the nearby Hayes Valley neighborhood.[19]

During the 1960s, when development interests and the Redevelopment Agency were using eminent domain to clear out a large area populated by retired men in the South of Market area, that area was termed "Skid Row" in the media. The City's convention center was built after the clearing of long term low-income residents.[20][21]

New York[edit]

In New York, Skid Row was a nickname given to the Bowery during much of the 20th century.[22]

Chicago[edit]

Traditional Skid Row areas in Chicago were centered along West Madison Street just west of the Chicago River[23] and, to a lesser degree, North Clark Street just north of the Chicago River.[24] Since the 1980s both of these areas have been gentrified.[citation needed]

Philadelphia[edit]

Philadelphia once had a highly visible skid row centered on Vine Street, just west of the approaches to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. This area was essentially obliterated by highway construction starting in the 1970s.[25][26]

Popular references[edit]

  • "The Wall Street Shuffle" by 10cc mentions Skid row in the lyrics.
  • "Skid Row" is the name of an American heavy metal band formed in New Jersey.
  • "Skid Row" is also the name of a Dublin, Ireland-based blues-rock band from the late 1960s and early 1970s that included such musicians as singer Phil Lynott and guitarist Gary Moore, both of whom later were part of Thin Lizzy.
  • Kurt Cobain, playing in a band that at the time had no name, came up with the name "Skid Row" to put on the marquee at a gig on the spur of the moment. That band's name would change frequently after that. He would later go on to form Nirvana.[27]
  • SKiDROW is one of the prominent warez groups in software. Whether this is based on the band is unknown.
  • Lana Del Rey makes a reference to Skid Row in a song off her Paradise EP "Cola". A review of the album in Out of Order states "Del Rey once again purrs patriotic-driven words to her listeners: 'I fall asleep with an American flag / I wear my diamonds on Skid Row / I pledge allegiance to my dad / For teaching me everything he knows.'"[28]
  • Breaking Bad Season 4 Episode 4 features Jesse turning his house into a Skid Row for the homeless.
  • The Little Shop of Horrors films and stage plays are all set in various downtown neighborhoods called Skid Row and include the song Down on Skid Row. The original 1960 film was set in Los Angeles while the 1986 film was set in New York.
  • In the 1976 film Rocky, the title character exclaims "You put my stuff on skid row? I been in that locker six years; you put my stuff in a bag on skid row?" after he arrives at his gym to find that his belongings have been removed from his locker, placed in a bag and hung on a hook.[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Random House Dictionary, Random House, Inc. "Skid row". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  2. ^ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. "Skid road". The Free Dictionary by Farlex. 
  3. ^ a b c Turner, Wallace (December 2, 1986). "A Clash Over Aid Effort on the First 'Skid Row'". The New York Times. p. A20.  . Convenience link on ProQuest (requires account - This resource requires a valid Seattle Public Library card.).
  4. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  5. ^ "Portland’s History". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  6. ^ Rochester, Junius; Walt Crowley (October 17, 2002). "Yesler, Henry L. (1810-1892)". History Ink. Retrieved 2007-01-27. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Keniston-Longrie, Joy (2009). Seattle's Pioneer Square. Chicago, San Francisco, & Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7385-7144-7. 
  8. ^ William C. Speidel, "Sons of the Profits, The Seattle Story 1851 to 1901"
  9. ^ "Gastown". Virtual Vancouver. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  10. ^ "About Vancouver". City of Vancouver. 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-27. 
  11. ^ "Demolish City's Skid Road, Murder Protest Demands." Vancouver Sun. April 6, 1962. p. 1.
  12. ^ Kalache, Stefan (January 12, 2007). "The Poorest Postal Code Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in Photos". The Dominion. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  13. ^ "2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count (page 38 -- Skid Row section)". Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  14. ^ "For Some, L.A.'s Skid Row Is For Beginnings". NPR. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  15. ^ "LA Downtown News Online". Downtownnews.com. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  16. ^ "A Plan to Spread Homeless Countywide - Los Angeles Times". Latimes.com. 2006-03-24. Archived from the original on 15 July 2006. 
  17. ^ The Reclamation of Skid Row by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal Autumn 2007. City-journal.org (2007-11-07). Retrieved on 2012-09-16.
  18. ^ a b The Sidewalks of San Francisco by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal Autumn 2010. City-journal.org (2010-10-14). Retrieved on 2012-09-16.
  19. ^ American FactFinder, United States Census Bureau. "941 3-Digit ZCTA by 5-digit ZIP Code Tabulation Area – GCT-PH1. Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density: 2000". Factfinder.census.gov. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  20. ^ Hartman, Chester. 1984. The Transformation of San Francisco. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld.
  21. ^ Averbach, Alvin. 1973. "San Francisco's South of Market District, 1858-1958: The Emergence of a Skid Row." California Historical Quarterly 52(3):196223.
  22. ^ Jesse McKinley (2002-10-13). "Along the Bowery, Skid Row Is on the Skids". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
  23. ^ http://newcity.com/2010/08/11/bummed-out-how-skid-row-went-from-%E2%80%9Cthe-land-of-the-living-dead%E2%80%9D-to-cappuccinos-and-condos/ Bummed Out: How Skid Row went from “The Land of the Living Dead” to cappuccinos and condos
  24. ^ http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/cushman/results/detail.do?query=city%3A%22Chicago%22&page=14&pagesize=50&display=thumbcap&action=search&pnum=P04092
  25. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2506&dat=19730902&id=wZVJAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NQwNAAAAIBAJ&pg=724,307360 Philadelphia Begins Demolition Of It's (sic) Skid Row
  26. ^ http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=metraux Waiting for the Wrecking Ball: Skid Row in Postindustrial Philadelphia
  27. ^ Who killed Kurt Cobain, Chapter 2. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  28. ^ Ronan, Eamon (November 2012). "Lana Del Rey Reveals her Dark Side of 'Paradise'". Out of Order. GLDN Media, llc. Retrieved 2013-03-21. 
  29. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075148/quotes

Bibliography[edit]

  • Holbrook, Stewart H. (1961). Yankee Loggers. New York: International Paper Company. .
  • Newell, Gordon (1956). Totem Tales of Old Seattle. Seattle: Superior Publishing Company. .
  • Morgan, Murray (1960). Skid Road. Ballantine Books.  (revised edition; first edition was 1951).

External links[edit]