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Watts is a residential district in southern Los Angeles, Californiamarker (more specifically, part of South Los Angelesmarker).


Watts in 1912

The area now known as Watts began its modern history after the arrival of Spanish-Mexican settlers as part of the Rancho La Tajuata which received its land grant in 1820. As on all ranchos, the principal vocation was grazing and beef production.

With the influx of white Americans settlers into Southern California in the 1870s, La Tajuata land was sold off and subdivided for smaller farms and homes. In those days each Tajuata farm had an artesian well. The arrival of the railroad spurred the development of the area, and in 1907 Watts was incorporated as a separate city, named after the first railroad station, Watts Stationmarker, that was built in the town. The city voted to annex itself to Los Angeles in 1926.

Along with more Caucasian Americans, Mexicanmarker and Mexican American railroad workers ("traqueros") settled in the community. African-Americans came in later and many of the men were Pullman car porters and other railroad workers. 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.

Watts did not become predominantly black until the 1940s, as the Second Great Migration brought tens of thousands of migrants from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas who left segregated 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' 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 drug prohibition. Four of Watts' influential gangs— Watts Cirkle City Piru Bloods, Grape Street Watts Crips, Bounty Hunter Watts Bloods, and PJ Watts Crips—formed a Peace Treaty agreement in 1992 following just over 4 years of peace talks which were initiated in July 1988 with the support of the local community. The spokespersons for the groups taking part in the peace talks were Twilight and Twelve.

Twilight and Twelve 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 a 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, due to gentrification, those African Americans who could, left Watts for other parts of South Los Angeles, and suburban locations in the Antelope Valleymarker, the Inland Empiremarker, The San Gabriel Valley, Orange Countymarker, and the San Joaquin Valleymarker. This process, which some call black flight, is simply part of the increasing gentrification of Non-white inner-city communities implemented in the 1980s, in a journey typical of the larger American society. The black population in Watts has been replaced by successor migrants, primarily Hispanic immigrants of Mexicanmarker and Central American ancestry, as well as a smaller proportion of Ethiopianmarker and Indianmarker ancestry. This process of gentrification 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.

Neighborhood leaders have begun a strategy to overcome Watts' reputation as a violence-prone and impoverished area. Special promotion has been given to the museums and art galleries opened in the area surrounding Watts Towersmarker at 1765 East 107th St, near the Imperial Highway and suburb of Lynwoodmarker. 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 1920's to the present and a record of the activities of the Watts Towers Arts Center.

Geography and transportation

Watts is bordered by the cities of South Gatemarker on the east and Lynwoodmarker on the southeast, and the unincorporated areas of Willowbrookmarker on the south and Florencemarker on the north.

The district's boundaries are Firestone Boulevard on the north, Alameda Avenue on the east, Imperial Highway on the south, and Central Avenue on the west. Principal thoroughfares through the district include Santa Ana Boulevard; Compton and Wilmington Avenues; and 108th Street. In addition to buses, mass transit is provided by the Blueand Green light rail lines of the Los Angeles Metro system, at the 103rd Street/Kenneth Hahn station on the Blue Line and the Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks station where the Blue and Green lines meet.

Watts is split between ZIP Codes 90002 and 90059.


Watts covers U.S. Census tracts 2420, 2426, 2427, 2430, and 2431. As of the 2000 census, total population in the district was 22,847. Racial breakdown was as follows: 38.9% black or African American, 13.3% white, 9.8% American Indian or Alaska native, 5.2% Asian or Pacific Islander, 49.3% some other races, and 13.9% two or more races; 69.7% were Hispanic of any race. The community has the lowest household income in all of Los Angeles County at $17,987. Per capita income stood at $6,681; 49.7% of families and 49.1% of individuals were below the poverty line. Unusually, the household income in the 1980 census for Watts was higher than it is today even with inflation.

Government and infrastructure

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..

The United States Postal Service Augustus F. Hawkins Post Office is located at 10301 Compton Avenue. 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.


Primary and secondary education

Public schools

Watts is located in Los Angeles Unified School District's Local District 7.

Its local secondary public school is David Starr Jordan High School, which includes a math-science magnet component .It has a student body of 76.5 percent Latinos, 23 percent African Americans and 5 percent other and, according to its website, is "located in a high crime area." Its athletic teams are known as the Bulldogs. The adjacent Simon Rodia High School is a continuation school for students who cannot attend Jordan. has sixth- through eighth-grade students .

Youth Opportunities High School, part of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps , is also located in Watts, as is 109th Street School.

Compton Avenue Elementary located at 1515 E. 104 Pl next to Markham Middle School educates students grades Pre-K-5th.

There are 2 more elementary schools 1 on Watts ave named John Ritter Elementary Pre-K-5th also Grape St. elementary.

There is also a fairly new public charter school named Jack H. Skirball Middle School located in Watts. It is located at Avalon and 115th St. After only one full year of operation, this school has become the highest performing middle school in the area, based on 2007–2008 API (Academic Performance Index) scores. Currently, approximately 250 students attend the school in the sixth and seventh grades. Currently, there are no athletic teams, but the mascot of Jack H. Skirball Middle School is the Spartan.

Private schools

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles operates many area Catholic schools.

San Miguel School provides a Catholic education for about 200 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Most of the families come from Latin America. Tuition is $145 a month. Many parents cannot pay on time, according to The Tidings online at [51332]. Verbum Dei High Schoolmarker is also located in the Watts area. Another Catholic Elementary school is St. Lawrence Brindisi which is also K Through 8.

Public libraries

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

Parks and references

The 109th Street Pool is located in Watts. In June 2005 a group of young men attacked a manager there, forcing the city to close the pool for a short period of time. When it re-opened police were stationed there.

Notable residents

  • Olympic track and field gold medalist Florence Griffith-Joyner (1959–1998) was raised in the Watts projects.
  • Community organizer "Sweet Alice" Harris (born 1934) and her activist group Parents of Watts are based in Watts.
  • Social Justice Activist and Gang Truce organizer Twilight Bey (born 1978) was raised in Watts. In 1988, he was a founding member of the Amer-I-Can Program developed by Jim Brown and in 1990 co-fonded Community In Support of the Gang Truce with members of both the Bloods and Crips from the Los Angeles County area. Twilight is the lead Social Intervention Specialist for the Social Solutions Institute.
  • R&B singer Tyrese (born 1978) was raised in Watts by his single mother. In 2000, he chartered a foundation to build a community center in Watts.
  • Darden Restaurants Chairman and CEO Clarence Otis, Jr. was raised in Watts

See also


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