This post is about the origins of the London Plane trees along 5th & 6th Streets in Skid Row. I had wondered since I moved here, who planted them, what were the circumstances and where did the funding come from? These trees really make 5thSt. in particular come alive and feel like a “Main Boulevard”. Spend enough time on Google and the answers will eventually rise to the surface. In this case I found out that these trees were planted in 1995 by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) with a grant of $71,845. I am including the article here for posterity. This planting of these trees was the last “large” multi-block planting of trees in Skid Row save for the several Podocarpus trees recently planted on Alameda Street. Looking around I think the only other large-scale planting in this neighborhood must have been the giant ficus which line San Pedro St. which was (I think) done sometime around the 1950’s. (Excerpted from a Los Angeles Times article titled, “Down to Earth: Tree Planting Brings New Life to Grim Skid Row Streets” April 22, 1995|LISA RESPERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER)
Skid Row in central Los Angeles usually has large groups of people milling about. Friday was no different, except that people had a purpose for hanging out. It was Earth Day.
Dozens of Skid Row residents helped the Los Angeles Conservation Corps plant 30 trees on several blocks in the central city area known to be a haven for the homeless and drug-addicted. The sweat poured and people cheered as the trees were planted, watered and christened with names.
According to Gabrielle Woods of the Single Room Occupancy Housing Corp., the planting was made possible by a $71,845 grant from the Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District.
Woods said Friday was the third annual Skid Row Earth Day planting, an event organized to help the environment as well as Skid Row residents.
“That’s a real important aspect, getting the community involved,” Woods said. “We try to foster self-sufficiency and responsibility, and this helps.”
Participants said the fact that the area is not usually associated with trees made the plantings all the more a labor of love.
“If you look around, you’ll see that we really don’t have any beauty around here,” Skid Row resident Alan Gutherie said as he wiped his brow while digging a new home for a London plane tree. “It will help Skid Row look not so Skid Row-ish.”
“This is like a baptism,” Peter Lassen, a Los Angeles Conservation Corps project manager, told a group as they huddled around a tree and packed down the soil.
“Some of the homeless people have been so excited about the trees being here that they have planted their own little gardens around them,” he said.
As Lassen poured water on the tree, Darrell Jabari and his friend Winton Askari named it “Betty Gean Franklin” after a friend who lives in Oakland. Jabari said he read about the Earth Day activity in a brochure he found on a city bus and wanted to come to participate.
Nathan Dobbins came with a group from the Harbor Light Center, a substance abuse program on Skid Row, to “put resources back into the community that were taken out.” He and his group named one of the trees “Hope.”
“These trees will give the community a sense of serenity,” Dobbins said. “Hope is what this community needs.”
Conservation Corp member Leo Carter said he found the tree plantings inspirational. “It just shows everyone that you start off small and work your way up,” he said as he pulled up rocks from the ground. “It makes your day.”
By the way, Skid Row may have been “grim” in 1995, but it is not today in my opinion. The trees helped a lot! I am currently in touch with the LACC about doing ANOTHER large-scale planting here in Skid Row (at least 15 trees) as soon as the conditions are right. Several things need to be in place for this to happen. In 2009 they worked to map out numerous empty tree wells in Skid Row that could take trees and found several other places that would be good spots too. Since 2009 however, several properties have changed ownership and/or are now displaying “for sale” signs, so things need to be re-visited with potential new ownership of land as something to consider. I plan to see what will shake out for 2012 in the local landscape Maybe organizing another large planting in the area could be workable in the near future.