Watts, Los Angeles

This article concerns the neighborhood in Los Angeles; for the former independent city, see Watts, California
Neighborhood of Los Angeles

Watts' most famous landmark, the Watts Towers created by Simon Rodia

Watts as mapped by the Los Angeles Times

Location within the Greater Los Angeles Area

Coordinates: 33°56′30″N 118°14′30″W / 33.94167°N 118.24167°W / 33.94167; -118.24167
Country United States
State California
County County of Los Angeles
City City of Los Angeles
  City Council Joe Buscaino
  State Assembly Isadore Hall, III (D)
  State Senate Roderick Wright (D)
  U.S. House Janice Hahn (D)
  Total 2.0 sq mi (5 km2)
Population (2000)[1]
  Total 34,830
  Density 17,350/sq mi (6,700/km2)
ZIP Code 90002
Area code(s) 323

Watts is a 2.12-square-mile neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, within the South Los Angeles area. It is a high-density, youthful neighborhood with a large household size and with the highest percentage of families headed by single parents in the city.[1][2]

The district was once a separate city but was consolidated with Los Angeles in 1926. As a major junction of railroad lines, Watts attracted many railroad workers as residents. The Watts railroad station is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Watts is noted for the Watts Towers and for the 1965 Watts riots. The neighborhood also has a number of youth gangs. Residents engage in civic activities such as cycling, a toy drive, a Christmas parade and an athletic tournament. There is a local theatre and a dance company.[3] There is one library branch, and there are four high schools. Watts has been the site of motion picture filming.


Watts in 1912

The area now known as Watts is located on the 1843 Rancho La Tajauta Mexican land grant. As on all ranchos, the principal vocation was at that time grazing and beef production.[4]

With the influx of European American settlers into Southern California in the 1870s, La Tajuata land was sold off and subdivided for smaller farms and homes, including a 220-acre parcel purchased by Charles H. Watts in 1886 for alfalfa and livestock farming. In those days each Tajuata farm had an artesian well.

The arrival of the railroad spurred the settlement and development of the area. Most of the first residents were the traqueros, Mexican and Mexican American rail workers who constructed and maintained the new rail lines.[5]

With this new growth, Watts was incorporated as a separate city, taking its name from the first railroad station, Watts Station that had been built in 1904 on 10 acres of land donated by the Watts family. The city voted to annex itself to Los Angeles in 1926.[4]

Watts did not become predominantly black until the 1940s. Before then, there were some African American residents, many of whom were Pullman car porters and cooks. Schoolroom photos from 1909 and 1911 show only two or three black faces among the 30 or so children pictured. By 1914, a black realtor, Charles C. Leake, was doing business in the area.[4] Racially restrictive covenants prevented blacks from living in any other neighborhoods outside of Central Avenue District and Watts.[6]

World War II brought the Second Great Migration, tens of thousands of African American migrants, mostly from Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, who left segregated Southern states in search of better opportunities in California. During World War II, the city built several large housing projects (including Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts) for the thousands of new workers in war industries. By the early 1960s, these projects had become nearly 100 percent black, as whites moved on to new suburbs outside the central city. As industrial jobs disappeared from the area, the projects housed many more poor families than they had traditionally.

Longstanding resentment by Los Angeles's working class black community over discriminatory treatment by police and inadequate public services (especially schools and hospitals) exploded on August 11, 1965, into what were commonly known as the Watts riots. The event that precipitated the disturbances, the arrest of a black youth by the California Highway Patrol on drunk-driving charges, actually occurred outside Watts. Mobs did the most property damage in Watts in the turmoil.

Watts suffered further in the 1970s, as gangs gained strength and raised the level of violence in the neighborhood. Between 1989 and 2005, police reported more than 500 homicides in Watts, most of them gang-related and tied to wars over control of the lucrative illicit market created by illegal drugs. Four of Watts's influential gangs— Watts Cirkle City Piru Bloods, Grape Street Watts Crips, Bounty Hunter Watts Bloods, and PJ Watts Crips—formed a Peace Treaty agreement on April 26, 1992 following just over 4 years of peace talks which were initiated in July 1988 with the support of the local community and mosque, Masjid Al Rasul (where talks had been conducted and the treaty was finalized).[7]

The spokespersons for the groups taking part in the peace talks were Imam Mujahid Abdul-Karim (of Masjid Al Rasul) and gang members, Twilight and Daude.[7]

Twilight and Daude photos from the 1988 Peace Talks press conference were printed on the front pages of regional and local newspapers and their interviews with TV news crews were on every news channel. In the months and years to follow, Twilight would appear on National TV talk shows, radio talk shows, and speak at several college and university campuses. Both Twilight and Twelve received death threats due to misinterpretation of newspaper articles by their peers, many of whom would join the peace movement in the months and years to come.

After four years of peace talks, the Peace Treaty would be drafted and then agreed the day before the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The pact, supported by community-based education initiatives and private investments from prominent members of the community e.g. Jim Brown, continues to contribute to the decrease in gang-related death in Watts and the greater South Los Angeles area since 1992. Key hallmarks of the pact continue to influence life in Watts to date, with colors and territory having little to do with gang-related crime.

Beginning in the 1980s, those African Americans who could leave Watts moved to other parts of South Los Angeles and suburban locations in the Antelope Valley, the Inland Empire, the San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and the San Joaquin Valley. The black population in Watts has been increasingly replaced by other demographic groups, primarily Hispanic immigrants of Mexican and Central American ancestry, as well as by a smaller proportion of Ethiopian and Indian ancestry. This demographic change accelerated after the 1992 riots.

In addition, there has been a net migration of African Americans out of California to return to the South in a New Great Migration. From 1995–2000, California was a net loser of African-American residents. With new jobs, Southern states have attracted the most black college graduates since 1995.[8]

Neighborhood leaders have begun a strategy to overcome Watts's reputation as a violence-prone and impoverished area. Special promotion has been given to the museums and art galleries in the area surrounding Watts Towers at 1765 East 107th Street, near the Imperial Highway and suburb of Lynwood. This sculptural and architectural landmark has attracted many artists and professionals to the area. I Build the Tower, a feature-length documentary film about the Watts Towers and their creator, Simon Rodia, provides a history of Watts from the 1920s to the present and a record of the activities of the Watts Towers Arts Center. Watts is one of several Los Angeles neighborhoods with a high concentration of convicted felons.[9]


As drawn by the "Mapping L.A." project of the Los Angeles Times, Watts is flanked on the north by Florence-Firestone, on the east by South Gate, on the southeast by Lynwood, on the south by Willowbrook and on the north and west by Green Meadows.[10]

The neighborhood's irregular street boundaries follow the Los Angeles city limits on the north and east, except for a small patch of Los Angeles County territory surrounding Ritter Elementary School, between 108th Street and Imperial Highway, which the Times includes in Watts.[1][11]

The southern boundary runs east-west on Imperial Highway, the eastern line is north-south on Alameda Street and the western line is north-south on Central Avenue to 103rd Street. Ted Watkins Park and other county areas are excluded. Thence the line is Success Avenue between Century Boulevard and 92nd Street.[1][11]


A total of 36,815 people lived in Watts's 2.12 square miles, according to the 2000 U.S. census—averaging 17,346 people per square mile, among the highest population densities in Los Angeles. Population was estimated at 41,028 in 2008. The median age was 21, making Watts the Los Angeles neighborhood with the youngest population. The percentages of residents aged birth to 18 were among the county's highest.[1][12]

Hispanics make up 61.6% of the population, with blacks at 37.1%, non-Hispanic whites 0.5%, Asian 0.2%, and others 0.5%. Mexico and El Salvador were the most common places of birth for the 34% of the residents who were born abroad, an average percentage of foreign-born when compared with the city or county as a whole.[1]

The $25,161 median household income in 2008 dollars was considered low for the city and county. The percentage of households earning $20,000 or less was high, compared to the county at large. The average household size of 4 people was high for the city. Renters occupied 67% of the housing units, and homeowners occupied the rest.[1]

In 2000, there were 2,816 families headed by single parents, or 38,9%, the highest rate for any neighborhood in the city.[2] The percentages of never-married women (45.3) and never-married men (44.7) were among the county's highest.[1]

In 2000, there were 739 military veterans, or 3.6% of the population, low when compared to the rest of the city.[1]

Government and infrastructure

Welcome to Watts sign on Central Avenue.

Local government

Watts Neighborhood Council 10221 Compton Avenue, Suite 106A, LA CA 90002 Phone: 323.564.0260

Los Angeles Fire Department Station 65 (Watts) serves the community.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 16 (Watts) serves the community.

Los Angeles Police Department operates the nearby Southeast Community Police Station.[13]

County, state and federal representations

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services operates the South Health Center in Watts.[14]

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation operates the L.A. Watts Juvenile Parole Center.[15]

The United States Postal Service Augustus F. Hawkins Post Office is located at 10301 Compton Avenue.[16] On January 24, 2000 the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate presented a bill to rename the Watts Finance Office as the Hawkins Post Office.[17]


Just 2.9% of Watts residents aged 25 and older had earned a four-year degree, according to the 2000 census, which is considered a low figure for both the city and the county. The percentage of those residents with less than a high school diploma was high in comparison with the county at large.[1]


Schools within Watts are:[11][18]

King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science opened in bungalows of Jordan in 1982.[19] In 1999 it moved to a standalone campus in Willowbrook.[20]

In May 2013 Wiegand Avenue Elementary School became the first school in California from which a principal was ordered removed in response to the state's 2010 "trigger law," which compels the dismissal of a school administrator on petition of a majority of parents. As a result of the pending loss of principal Irma Cobian, 21 of 22 teachers asked for transfer to other schools.[21]

Public libraries

Los Angeles Public Library operates the Alma Reaves Woods – Watts Branch.[22]

Watts received its first library service in 1913 when temporary space was designated in the city hall for a library. In 1914 the library moved into a newly built Carnegie library. Los Angeles annexed Watts in 1926, so the library became the Watts Branch of the Los Angeles library system. In 1957 voters approved a library branch bond, and a 3,600 square feet (330 m2) Watts Branch opened in 1960. In 1991 the Los Angeles City Council approved a measure, backed by the Friends of the Watts Branch Library, the Fifteenth District Council Office, and the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) of the City of Los Angeles, to build a new library as a part of the 1.3 acres (0.53 ha) Watts Civic Center. 1.3 million dollars from Proposition 1, the branch library facility bond issue of 1989, funded the construction of the new Watts library. On June 25, 1996 the city council voted to name the library after Alma Reaves Woods Watts, a woman in the community who encouraged reading and library usage. James C. Moore, AIA & Associates designed the current Watts Library, which opened on June 29, 1996.[23]

Community service

CicLAvia Tour

Sunday January 22, 2012, the popular cycling event called CicLAvia took place in south L.A.'s Central-Alameda neighborhood to the Watts Towers. Volunteers were excited to hold an event close to the CicLAvia events in downtown L.A. The event was meant to encourage civic engagement. Throughout the group of volunteers the diversity was large. Cyclists took photos for a "crowd-source" map made up of photos and recordings by the cyclists.[24]

Toys for Watts

For the fourth continuous year, brother Powe of Called to Destiny Motorcycle Ministries has hosted a toy drive for the kids in the community of Watts, California. This happened after a flood that devastated the local area in 2003. Powe said he was "awakened by the Lord" to get him and his biker friends together and help replace the toys that were lost in the flood. Since then, he has worked with "Sweet Alice" Harris hand in hand; she's a local activist and founder of Parents of Watts, a charity that has been helping the community for more than 43 years.

Watts Re-Imagined

Watts Re:Imagined is a local urban planning initiative led by Grant Housing Economic Development Corps (Grant EDC, a non-profit division of the community-based Grant AME church) and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) Urban Solutions program. Its mission is to help the community of Watts realize its full potential by promoting economic opportunity, social equity, public health, and an improved quality of life, all while working with community leaders to preserve the identity of the area. It is trying to achieve this goal by implementing different existing plans proposed for the area. The Watts Re:Imagined initiative has been formed in response to the dissolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.[25]

Parks and recreation

The following recreation facilities are within the Watts boundaries:


The Watts Towers or Towers of Simon Rodia is a collection of 17 interconnected structures, two of which reach heights of over 99 feet (30 m). The Towers were built by Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato ("Sam" or "Simon") Rodia in his spare time over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. The work is an example of non-traditional vernacular architecture and American Naïve art.[31][32]

The Watts station was a train station built in 1904. It is a National Historic Landmark.[33] It has been known as one of the few structures that were untouched by a huge fire along 103rd Street stores during the 1965 Watts riots. When it was found intact, it was a symbol of hope and faith for the Watts community. Being one of the most original buildings that was first constructed in Watts, it was a popular stop for the Pacific Electric Railway's “Red Car” that ran through Los Angeles, CA, to Long Beach, CA, for 50 years. It was also admitted to the NRHP (National Register of Historic Places) four months after the riots.

The Watts Christmas parade was created in 1964 by Edna Aliewine before the Watts riots. She put together a group of local volunteers to fundraise and create the parade. Ms. Aliewine started a drill team with neighborhood girls which marched in homemade Santa hats. She died at the age of 90 in her home in Watts on July 5, 2011.[34][35]

The L.A. Watts Summer Games started in 1968 and were held at Locke High School. The games are a three-day athletic tournament that brings together more than 5,000 students from 200 California schools. Almost 200,000 youth have competed in the games over the past 30 years. The Watts Summer Games have a scholarship program for students who are dedicated to the community and have awarded more than $300,000 since their inception in 1992.[36][37]

Performing arts


Epifani Dance Company was founded by Lakesha Buchanon in Watts in 2002. Their motto is "Where Dance Is More Than Movement".[38] Epifani Dance Company promotes a tight dance bond that separates an individual dancer from an extraordinary dancer. They compete in year-round SHARP International competitions. Epifani Dance Company has won several 1st-place trophies in these SHARP International competitions.


Located on 107th Street, the Watts Village Theater Company is a multicultural urban company whose mission is to "inspire its community with an appreciation of all cultures." The company was started in 1996 and has been involved in helping the community with educational workshops ever since. The members strive to make a more understanding Watts whose citizens can harmoniously live together in a diverse community.[39]


Film shoots

Killer of Sheep

Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep was filmed and is set in Watts in the early 1970s. The film is a classic of American independent cinema.

Wassup Rockers

Wassup Rockers was filmed in Watts, Los Angeles. Parts of the film was filmed at Locke High School and Gompers Middle School.[40]

Training Day

Portions of the Oscar award-winning movie (Denzel Washington, Best Actor 2001) Training Day was filmed in and around Imperial Courts projects in Watts. The scenes that starred actors Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and musician Macy Gray were filmed there.


LA Youth was founded by Donna Myrow in 1988. The first edition of the publication sold 2,500 copies. Its current circulation is 120,000. LA Youth reaches approximately half a million readers.[41]

L.A. Watts Times Weekender Newspaper is an African American newspaper in both print and online. L.A. Watts Times was started in 1965 with the motto:"The Voice of Our Community Speaking for Itself."[42]

In the summer of 2010 the Bakewell family was in negotiation to purchase the LA Watts Times..[43] Danny Bakewell said, "I am proud and honored that Melanie chose me and my family to continue the great legacy of the Watts Times, its founders and her parents,".[43]

The critically acclaimed film "Down For Life" also took place in Watts.

Notable people

See also


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  2. 1 2 "Mapping L.A.: Single Parents Ranking". Los Angeles Times. 2015. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  3. Shaver, Shonassee (February 27, 2014). "The Beautiful Color of Watts; Lynn Manning's gift for theatre thrives at the Watts Village Theater Company". L.A. Watts Times. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Ray, MaryEllen Bell (1985). The City of Watts, California: 1907 to 1926. Los Angeles: Rising Publications.
  5. Romo, Ricardo (1983). East Los Angeles: A History of a Barrio. University of Texas Press. p. 69.
  6. Bauman, Robert (2008). Race and the War on Poverty: From Watts to East L.A. University of Oklahoma Press : Norman.
  7. 1 2 Chang, Jeff (April 1, 2007). Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. St. Martin's Press. p. 365. ISBN 978-1-4299-0269-4. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
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Coordinates: 33°56′30″N 118°14′30″W / 33.94167°N 118.24167°W / 33.94167; -118.24167

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