Who was Skid Row’s ‘Avant Guardian’?

Written by

In the 1980s, Skid Row was still home to the poorest people in Los Angeles, but it also had a thriving avant garde theater scene. Actors like Tim Robbins, John Cusack, and Jeremy Piven got their start at the Wallenboyd, an experimental theater space at the corner of Wall and Boyd St., in the heart of Skid Row.

Another permanent fixture was Clyde Casey, a street performer who often took up residence in the parking lot of the Wallenboyd. One night the theater’s security guard didn’t show up, so they asked Casey if he could keep an eye on their patrons’ cars before and during the plays. He agreed, but only if he could stay in character. His character was “the avant guardian,” a surrealist crime fighter, festooned with toys and musical instruments and homemade chrome-painted sculpture who kept Skid Row safe using only the powers of art.

Casey left Los Angeles for New York and then he sort of disappeared. No one had really heard from him for over 20 years, until radio producer David Weinberg finally tracked him down in New Orleans, and got him to tell his story.

You can hear it in the Season 2 premiere of The Organist, KCRW’s weekly experimental arts and culture podcast from the folks at The Believer magazine.

Subscribe to The Organist on iTunes.