As part of the Downtown LA book project, John and Scott Free assigned each of us an isolation challenge. We were given a specific location (address or street corner) and challenged to spend an entire hour photographing just from that location. This challenge forced us to slow down and to wait for the stories to come to us.
I was assigned “501 S. Los Angeles Street”, just two blocks north of skid row at the corner of 5th Street and Los Angeles. When I arrived I found the Hotel Baltimore.
There is not much history for the Hotel Baltimore on the internet, but I did find out that this is the “new” Hotel Baltimore built in 1910 by Thomas Ashton Fry and designed by architect Arthur Rolland Kelly. Across 5th Street is the King Edward Hotel which is apparently famous for the King Eddy Saloon. There is a brief history on their website which reads:
Not many people remember a time before the King.
We’ve been open since 1933 and we were around before that too. Bootlegging empires were born below this place.
Today we keep it upstairs, “where nobody gives a shit about your name.” Cheap drinks, some food, and a dart room.
In the early 1900’s, 5th Street was lined with hotels leading from the Southern Pacific Railroad Central Station at 5th and Central to the downtown core of Main, Spring, Broadway, and Hill Streets. Even though Central Station was demolished in 1956, many of the 5th Street hotels still stand.
Now the Hotel Baltimore is but a shell of its former glory. No longer a hotel for traveling business men, it serves as low-rent apartments. The security guard indicated that there are two kinds of people at the Baltimore, the old timers and the new folks who rarely stay past their 6 month lease.
The Baltimore presents itself visually as a large open, and empty, foyer with nondescript windows and a couple of doors with signs reading “Do Not Knock”. At first I watched for people to come and go and looked for opportunities as people walked the street. Some ignored me others thought they were having a little fun.
A woman came down to mop the floor. She waived but then went about her business.
As I started to think about finding layers, I worked on shooting through two sides of the windows, to appear as if I was shooting from the inside out.
I looked for reflections to create depth and interest, to overlay the stories inside with the environment outside.
On Sunday afternoon, the door with the label “Do Not Knock”, was propped open with a tall and friendly security guard. We chatted some.
Residents started to come and go.
Then Ralph came out for a smoke. He had recently fallen on bad times and was “back at the Baltimore”.
He wondered if I would take a picture of him that he could send to his sister. I hope his sister likes it.