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Blue Book / Silver Book
Making transparent the role urban design plays in determining the fate of communities

Curated by John Malpede and designed in collaboration with Robert M. Ochshorn.

April 11 – June 28, 2015
Opening Exhibition of the Skid Row History Museum & Archive – at its first location on 440 S. Broadway, LA, CA 90013 – mezzanine level

The Blue Book / Silver Book exhibition introduced


Michael Holland with the Blue Book and the Silver Book from the City Archives.

This exhibition “Blue Book / Silver Book” historically contextualizes both adoption of the city plan that saved the low-income housing in Skid Row (known as the Blue Book) and the defeat of a front running alternative “Silver Book” plan that proposed “massive development of the area.” In the wake of the clear-cutting of historic Bunker Hill in 1955, Skid Row was headed for a similar “redevelopment,” under a proposed general development plan known as the “Silver Book.” Community advocates from The Catholic Worker, The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and The Community Design Center, frustrated by the wholesale displacement of Bunker Hill residents, organized and presented an alternative plan, one that saved the single room occupancy hotels and committed resources to renovating and augmenting this housing and locating social services in the area.

This plan, known as “The Blue Book,” was adopted by the City Council, with a majority of votes, some concerned with providing housing and others simply concerned with keeping displaced Skid Row people from coming to their neighborhoods. The framers of the plan argued that it was cheaper to save and renovate Skid Row housing than to try to build it elsewhere, as new construction would be more costly and face local resistance. In order to garner the requisite majority vote in City Council, proponents argued that enhanced housing and services would keep Skid Row residents from straying to other neighborhoods and that it would “contain” poor people in one part of downtown. Thus, it passed City Council and became law –with a coalition of housing advocates and with additional votes of Council members who cynically only wanted to keep poor people out of their districts.

Significantly, the Blue Book plan prohibited market rate development within Skid Row.  The Blue Book Plan saved the housing in Skid Row. So, while every other Skid Row in America was disappeared, in Los Angeles the area’s primary stakeholders remain its low-income residents, and their interests are increasingly prioritized as the community works to create a vibrant, viable neighborhood. This show utilizes the interplay of historical documents and non-linear, digitally reconfigured content–activated by each visitor–to unfold its story, thereby creating a mechanism for each visitor to experience the exhibition uniquely.

The exhibition consists of a minimal installation of physical objects: two books, one Blue one Silver, on a bare table. As visitors turn the pages of each, thematically linked photos, videos, audio and paper documents, pop up, projected on the gallery walls.

The show is curated by John Malpede and designed in collaboration with Robert M. Ochshorn.
Ochshorn is a researcher at the SRHMAJohnopeningCommunications Design Group (San Francisco, USA), where he designs media interfaces for extending human perceptive and expressive capabilities. He holds a BA in Computer Science from Cornell University and worked as a Research Assistant in the Interrogative Design Group at MIT and Harvard. In 2012, he was a researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academie (Maastricht, NL), where he developed the open-source InterLace software that was used in collaboration to create the web-based documentary Montage Interdit (presented at the Berlin Documentary Forum 2, June 2012, Berlin, Germany), and he has recently completed a residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart, Germany). He has performed, lectured, and exhibited internationally.

Excerpt of an interview with Jeff Dietrich and Catherine Morris of the LA Catholic Worker with LA Poverty Department for Walk The Talk 2012, about the origins of the BLUE BOOK.

Jeff Dietrich:  But I had been involved in the seventies with the redevelopment stuff, I don’t know if you remember what year that was. There’s something called the Silver Book, you know its something kind of infamous, Catherine read a little blurb in the paper, I think it was around 1973-75 maybe, and there were hearings about redevelopment, particularly about Skid Row, like the whole thing was gonna get physically wiped out, and there was gonna be a USC library on the 5th street. And what they were gonna do was the same plan as the Bunker Hill plan where they just come in and wholesale wipe the thing out. And gradually, as with Bunker Hill, you can still see there are some empty lots there. But that’s what they like to do: these big strategic plans. And in the meantime, as with Bunker Hill, their intention was to wipe out all the housing. So there were hearings and Catherine went to hearings and then she asked me to go to the hearings and…

Catherine Morris: … well I asked him to go to the hearings because I didn’t know what the next step was. They asked, after everybody testified, then they opened it up to public and I went up and I spoke as the voice of the people and quivering my voice and I had to make it short or I would have started crying. And then I went over and sat down and then these people started coming over. And it was like people who wanted to be in the issue, but they had to have a client and we sounded like a good client.

JD: There wasn’t anybody on Skid Row that was interested in that kind of perspective. All the missions were very insular, unlike today that they are very fascist in a public manner, they were very insular and they just did not get involved, and so…

CM: … and so I came home, and I said, “People are very interested in this and I told them to call you.” And so Legal Aid called and Jim Bonar.

JD: Jim Bonar was the director of the Community Design Center. So, between Legal Aid and I don’t know, do you know Gary Squier?  He was the director of housing for a long time but in these days he was a volunteer for the Community Design Center. Basically, between Legal Aid and Community Design Center we developed what’s called the Blue Book Plan.

CM: The city had proposed the Silver Book Plan.

JD: Just about that time Bradley became mayor and I got appointed to the Redevelopment board. The plan that we wrote got adopted. It basically said, save all this housing.

CM: … Here’s the story about the book. In order to get good information, on our limited resources, we flew someone out from Philadelphia, Leonard Blumberg, who was the expert at the time. And he met with all these people, the Design Center and with the Redevelopment board. He basically did a kind of workshop. They made it look like the real thing and so now, what they’re gonna do with it? So someone knew someone in the City Council and they agreed that while there was a lunch-break that they would bring these Blue Book Plans in and put them at every place. So the council people came back in, sat down, picked up the first thing on their desks and started paging through going, “Where did this come from?”

JD: I might have a copy somewhere, but that was kind of my work in the seventies. I worked on Redevelopment. I worked with the Community Design Center. Bradley appointed me to Blue Ribbon committee and Frank Rice was on that committee. That’s how Frank and I got to know each other. It was a very unique time, because nobody wanted Skid Row at the time. They really didn’t know what to do with it exactly. And they were lots of housing advocates out there who had already been working since the time of before Bunker Hill, and they were ready to pounce on this and try to save this housing. So I was the fortuitous instrument of decades of activism on part of other people and it was a fortuitous time. The Bradley administration was amenable, the unions were interested. Jim Wood was the president of the Redevelopment Agency and he was also the head of the County AFL-CIO. The Central City Business Association was supportive. All were supportive of this Blue Book plan that had kind of come out of out of nowhere. It was adopted by the City Council and its basically still the plan. Its what’s called the “containment plan” and spoken of rather derisively. Maybe we could have thought of a better name, but its better than the alternative which was the obliteration plan.

So what’s happened now is, that coalition is long gone, but Alice Callahan and ourselves, we’ve really worked out of that plan to try to keep the city focused on it, even as it would try to go in other directions.

But in the last ten years or so, the viability of the plan has been undermined. Beginning with the development on Main Street that started with Tom Gilmore.  We still hope that it will fail. But, its looking like it’s gonna be hard.

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Containment and Community: The History of Skid Row and its Role in the Downtown Community Plan

WHEN: Thursday, Nov 17, 2022, 6:30pm WHERE: The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 North Central Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012ADMISSION: FREE. LECTURE Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) is a multidisciplinary arts group whose artists live and work in Skid Row.  At MOCA’s and Judith F. Baca’s invitation LAPD has focused this evening…
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About the Skid Row History Museum and Archive

The Skid Row History Museum and Archive is a pop-up exhibition /performing arts space curated by LAPD. It foregrounds the distinctive artistic and historical consciousness of Skid Row, a 40-year-old social experiment. The Skid Row History Museum and Archive functions as a means for exploring the mechanics of displacement in an age of immense income inequality, by mining a neighborhood’s activist history and amplifying effective community strategies. The space operates as an archive, exhibition, performance and meeting space. Exhibitions will focus on grassroots strategies that have preserved the neighborhood from successive threats of gentrification and displacement, to be studied for current adaptation and use.

The space is activated by performances, community meetings and films addressing gentrification and displacement locally, nationally and globally. The culture that developed here on Skid Row—an activist culture, artistic culture and recovery culture—offers a useful model for other communities navigating gentrification pressures. The museum space also serves as a literal and artistic common ground, a welcoming space for Angelenos to meet and mingle and explore civic issues together.

In a second museum space an extensive archive of Skid Row History (planning documents, articles, videos, audios, interview transcripts etc.), are available for casual and scholarly research. Visitors will be able to access this archive, comment upon it and use it to further explore the show’s themes.


LAPD’s Skid Row History Museum and Archive project is supported with funding from the California Arts Council’s Creative California Communities Program, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts.