Growing up in 1930s Los Angeles — Skid Row

Frank wrote vividly of growing up in Los Angeles, moving in the early 1930s from a house to a small hotel on Fifth Street, “near Main Street in the heart of Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row.” The hotel business was thriving from three groups needing inexpensive rooms: traveling salesmen, males wanting the city’s cheap living conditions, and a large transient population of World War I veterans. They’d find all the businesses they needed plus buses and streetcars as well as a variety of entertainment.

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ABOVE: Merced Theatre, 420 North Main Street, Los Angeles, June 1936. Library of Congress; HABS photograph by Henry F. Withey,

Here’s is Frank’s description of his new “playground”:

I was eight or nine years old, and for the first time I discovered that we were a rather poor family. At night, I would sit on the fire escape in the rear of the hotel, inhaling the odors emanating from the kitchen below — the smells of freshly-baked, jelly-filled pastries were the best. We never got to buy any pastries and we never ate in the cafeteria, but I still remember the white tiled floor, the counter heaped with food, and the crowded tables full of hungry diners.

The cheap movie houses strung along Main Street from Sixth St. north to Third, on both sides of the street, featured lurid posters and as much sin as Hollywood could get away with. Gangster movies were especially featured, and there were even two live “strip” shows featuring buxom strippers with eye-catching names. There were more bars, movie houses, and fast-food restaurants along that stretch of roadway than anywhere else in Los Angeles, with a generous supply of clothing stores and hock shops tossed in for good measure. The winos and deadbeats could sleep in the all-night movie houses for the price of admission. Yet just west of Main Street, on Fifth, were some of the most impressive hostelries in the city, like the huge Rosslyn Hotel on Spring Street, and, two block farther west, on Hill Street, the giant and prestigious Biltmore Hotel.

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