A PLACE OF REFUGE
By 1935, the height of the depression, downtown’s infamous Skid Row was in full swing. It is the first time I have seen the building referred to as a "mission" when The Times announced, “Rev. G. W. Scott, Scotch evangelist and singer, will conduct services at the new Cavalry Gospel Mission, 118 Winston Street, every evening for the next two weeks”. I also found an undated notice stating “Catholic Knights of America, St Joseph Branch No 397, meets 3rd Sunday of each month at 118 Winston”.
THE NUN AND THE NAZI KILLERS
In the 1940s the building was purchased by Sylvia May Cresswell, also known as Sister Sylvia. By this point, from looking at building records, we could see that the building was in pretty bad disrepair. Sister Sylvia put money into fixing the parapets and installing showers, and opened it as Sister Sylvia’s Soul Patrol (sometimes spelled "Sole Patrol"), a rescue mission aimed at helping veterans returning from the war in Europe who found themselves alcoholic and on the streets of Skid Row. Although we are still not sure if Sister Sylvia was an actual nun or not, we did find a photo of her in 1948 where The Times says “Sister Sylvia Cresswell, the 'Angel Of Skid Row', was crowned 'Queen' last night.” After she was crowned “Queen of Skid Row” there was a parade that was intended “to publicize the needs of war veterans in the Skid Row District.”
UNFIT FOR HUMAN HABITATION
Now things get a little confusing and certain dates overlap and contradict each other a bit. Through the Department of Building and Safety, I found correspondence between Sister Sylvia and the city in the 1950s. Apparently, the building was in pretty bad shape and the DBS felt that it should be condemned, but they couldn’t lean on her too hard since she was a nun helping vets. Some hand-written notes found in a DBS range file say that the building was indeed condemned in 1955 by the Health Department and deemed "unfit for human habitation." It goes on to say that the entire building remained vacant until 1963. Sister Sylvia's Soul Patrol left the building sometime in 1958, but Sylvia remained its owner until the late 1960s.
From 1958 until 1974 the building became a series of “hiring halls” or “labor halls” with names like Dependable Workers Inc., Golden State Labor Service, and Rent-A-Man. The DBS records state that the building was used as “an office and hiring hall on the first floor and the second floor for a dormitory for workers. The third floor was used as an apartment and sleeping room.” From my understanding and a bit of googling it would seem that these “labor halls” and “dormitory for workers” were a sort of slave labor affair—as in, destitute men could eat and sleep there but would go out and work manual labor jobs all day which would pay for their room and board.
THE NATIVE CONNECTION
In 1975, a Lakota/Sioux woman named Baba Cooper founded United American Indian Involvement
and set up at 118 Winston. Cooper was a recovering alcoholic who was determined to help other alcoholic native people who found themselves in downtown Los Angeles and in need of help. UAII was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first urban resource centers for Native Americans. Many native people found help for addiction through UAII as well as reconnecting with family and culture.
from Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration & Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles by Nicolas G. Rosenthal
During the time that UAII was here, Skid Row went through many changes and some of its tougher times. When crack cocaine was introduced on the streets it became a much more dangerous and unpredictable place. The alley that runs alongside the building became known around Skid Row as Indian Alley, a place where homeless native men and women would gather and feel somewhat protected from the hostile elements on the downtown streets. It was a sad, brutal and dangerous place. From my years of being here I have heard it referred to as “Apache Alley”, “Blood Alley” and “Heroin Alley”, but “Indian Alley” is the name that gets used the most. I've been told many stories about stabbings, fights, and overdoses that happened there from native men and women who were witnesses to those sad days. UAII left the building around 1999 and moved their headquarters to Sixth St., just on the west side of the 101, and continue doing positive work for the native community.
from ON THE REZ by Ian Frazier
Indian Alley early 1980's (photographer unknown)
Indian Alley early 1980s (photographer unknown)
Part III | Coming Soon
The history of art and film in Indian Alley and how we came to occupy the building. Stay tuned.