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Highland Park and The Nickel

December 28, 2010

5th and Main Streets, Los Angeles, circa 1925. Photo by Dick Whittington via USC Digital Library.

This past week’s stories about the annual appearances of charitable men that give away dollar bills, ten-dollar bills, and hundred-dollar bills to the downtrodden of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, reminded me of a time a hundred years ago, and the connection Skid Row has with Highland Park.

For those that are familiar with Los Angeles’ Skid Row, know it is centered along 5th street between roughly Los Angeles Street and Central Avenue. As long as I can remember, 5th Street has been called “The Nickel.” Which has a clever ring to it. So much so, one of the best diners in Los Angeles, located near there named itself after the place. But why “The Nickle?” Why not “The Fin?” or why isn’t 10th street “The Dime” or 1st Street “The Penny?” Well, there is a reason for that. A reason that Highland Park, or more specifically, Highland Park’s Pisgah Home has to be thanked for.

Pisgah Village on Echo and Hayes off Avenue 60.

Around 1900, gold miner and doctor,  Finis E. Yoakum, founded his faith-healing sanatorium in Highland Park on Avenue 60 and Echo Street. What started as just tents on his property would eventually become Pisgah Home, and then the Pisgah Village as it is today. At its peak in 1911, The Pisgah Home located in the Echo-Hayes Neighborhood, housed as many as 9,000 people a month. Most were homeless and recovering alcoholics that looked to Yoakum’s ministry find a healing remedy from the alcoholism that plagued them.

Part of Dr. Yoakum’s recruitment of lost souls, was to send out his missionaries to where the downtrodden were congregated at what was then the Red Light District of Los Angeles around the Southern Pacific Arcade Railroad Depot at 5th and Central Avenue. The way the Yoakum’s workers would convince the desperate and destitute to relocate themselves from 5th Street to Highland Park for a free bed, vegetarian meals and some old-time religion, was to give everyone they encountered A NICKEL. (The cost to take the trolley up to the Pisgah Home.) There was no obligation to use the nickel for the trolley so eventually people knew they could go to 5th Street for FREE NICKELS! –As they say, the rest is history.

The 1915 Yoakum Estate on Avenue 59. (Faith Healing must have been lucrative.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2010 7:28 pm

    Happy New Year in 90042.

    Great story; especially the nickel connection. Another “who knew” from the peanut gallery.

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