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Old and New Forces Collide at 7th & Main

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, July 26, 2010, at 12:44PM
LAPD Night Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Police tape blocks off the intersection of 7th and Main on May 21, the night a 50-year-old man was shot at the corner.

Given the rarity of gun violence Downtown, it is understandable that a trio of shootings centered around the corner of 7th and Main have left the Historic Core a bit shaken.

While the incidents do not seem to have any relation to each other, they do highlight the struggle taking place on what remains a border block in Downtown's revitalization.

Each of the incidents has roots in drug sales, according to police. "It seems to be new people coming into the area that are trying to make a play for controlling, or being involved, or having this little monopoly there," explained Lieutenant Paul Vernon, head of Central Division detectives.

Wednesday, 6pm: Police yesterday arrested 13 men, including three drug dealers in a special enforcement action aimed at 7th and Main.

Shots were first fired on back to back nights in May. On May 20, occupants of a vehicle fired shots into the side of the Huntington Hotel at 8th and Main. The next night, a man in his 50's was shot on 7th between Spring and Main.

Most recent was a July 4 incident in which a 19-year-old male was shot in both the front and the back, leaving a trail of blood as he attempted to run up Spring Street to get away.

"Why is it happening there?" asked Vernon. "Well, to be honest, it's always happened there. The Huntington Hotel is the root of it."

While other major Downtown hotels including the Alexandria, Rosslyn and Hayward were historically centers of drugs and violence, they have since been cleaned up. "The Huntington is the last bastion, so to speak, of this kind of criminal activity," Vernon said.

The hotel is currently up for sale after a protracted fight between original building owner Landmark Equity Partners, purchaser A Better Choice Development, Inc (ABCD), and the City Attorney's Office. In 2008, Landmark was ordered to sell its interest in a number of residential properties, including the Huntington, that had been maintained in sub-standard condition.

The Huntington, located at 752 S. Main, was the last to sell, despite interest from several non-profit housing providers. According to court testimony, deals were struck with both a partnership between Clifford Beers Housing, Inc and Communities Actively Living Independent and Free (CALIF) and with SRO Housing Corp. Neither could close before the deadline by which Landmark had to give up the building.

Just before the city's court-ordered deadline, Landmark closed a deal to sell the building to ABCD, a contractor it had employed to do work on the building. The city saw the sale as a sham transaction, while ABCD's Daniel Mangaroni wrote in a March 22 declaration that he simply saw a chance to flip the building and turn a profit.

Any new operator will face the challenge of reversing a long history of problems. Vernon would get calls to the building early in the 2000s while running Central's gang and narcotics units. "We had people jumping out of windows and throwing dope out windows," he recalled. "It's not quite that bad now."

The July 4 shooting also highlighted a paradox that has plagued Skid Row for decades. The 19-year-old victim, previously convicted for drug dealing, told police that he was in the neighborhood to attend treatment as part of his parole conditions. Instead, police believe he was selling.

"I suspect that 19-year-old owed [the shooters] money," Vernon said. "He hadn't paid up, or hadn't paid the tax for selling in that neighborhood."

Partly as a response to the earlier 7th and Main incidents, Central Division Captain Todd Chamberlain in June moved Senior Lead Officer Steve Nichols to the Historic Core. "It's nice every once in a while to get a new perspective and get a fresh set of eyes," Chamberlain told blogdowntown earlier this month.

Change takes time and persistence, Vernon said. "The reason that Skid Row was allowed to exist in the state it did until four or five years ago was that people didn't care, people had written it off," he said. "Well, we haven't written it off, and we've shown that for four or five years. We want to continue to make this change."

Vernon emphasized the public's role in that change, and said that residents at 7th and Main have approached the department to offer assistance. He also encouraged Downtown building owners to make an investment in cameras that cover the sidewalks around their building, and to make sure that camera footage is saved for at least four days.

That kind of partnership continues to be vital, said Russell Brown, Executive Director of the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District. "It doesn't take a whole lot to kill a neighborhood," Brown said. "You can lose it all really quick."


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