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Wedding a Happy Ending for Skid Row Couple

July 23, 1989|DAVAN MAHARAJ | Times Staff Writer

The bridal gown cost only $25. The wedding pillows that bore two gold rings had been made from material left over from the gown. The bride crafted her own bouquet. And the wedding menu included spaghetti, nachos, fruit salad and sherbet. Total cost: $300.

Cynthia Arellano, 41, and Raymond Szukala, 58,--a formerly homeless couple--found love Saturday on Skid Row in a simple traditional ceremony held in San Julian Park.

The marriage was a storybook ending to a relationship that, they say, grew from mere "sharing and caring to true love."

"This is one of the few happy stories on Skid Row . . . (it) has really touched the hearts of many," said Camille Cannizzaro, director of SRO Housing Corp., a city-funded agency that operates 12 facilities downtown for homeless people. Like most weddings, this one had its moments of emotion. Arellano appeared regal in her creme-colored floor-length dress, with a strand of imitation pearls dangling from her neck. As the bride--a mother of four and grandmother of three--was about to make her way over to the park for the ceremony, her daughter, Aileen, 19, burst into tears. "I'm glad someone in this family is getting married," she said.

Choosing San Julian Park, a regular meeting place for homeless, was no accident. It is located across the street from the Harold Hotel, where on a rainy February night last year the couple landed after spending three weeks on the streets.

Arellano and Szukala had been friends since 1981. He was separated after a 15-year marriage, while Arellano had never married. "I never thought that I would ever get married," she said.

When Szukala fell ill in April, 1982, and could no longer hold his job as a security officer, Arellano took him in. A year later, his condition worsened when he suffered a stroke and a nervous breakdown.

The couple's trail of homelessness

began in 1984 when Arellano, who suffers from a heart ailment, also became ill and had to quit her job. No longer able to afford her $450-a-month Monterey Park apartment, the couple moved to her mother's East Los Angeles one-bedroom rental house. But last year, a new owner evicted the Arellano family.

After the eviction, the couple roamed the harsh streets of Los Angeles for three weeks. They recalled how they took turns watching over each other when they slept in parks, movie theaters and buses.

The couple ended up at the Harold Hotel, where they pay $240 a month for an apartment with a kitchenette. They live on the welfare payments that Arellano receives and disability checks of Szukala's, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.

Cannizzaro gave the couple their first wedding present a few weeks ago, replacing their twin beds with a full-size bed. "I thought it was time they get one bed," Cannizzaro said.

After exchanging vows, the couple exchanged a brief kiss and then locked each other in an embrace.

"I wish them the best of luck," said Keith Smith, a fellow resident of the hotel. "Hearing the vows gave me something to think about."

"This is future. It's a new day," Szukala said.

Times staff writer Teresa Tamura contributed to this story.

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