Watts, Los Angeles, California

Watts is a residential district in southern Los Angeles, California (more specifically, part of South Los Angeles). It is considered by many to be a ghetto. Watts was also the home of the first subway in the Americas.


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 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 Station, that was built in the town. The city voted to annex itself to Los Angeles in 1926.

Along with more Caucasian Americans, Mexican and Mexican American railroad workers ("traqueros") settled in the community. Blacks 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 after 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 market in illegal drugs. Three of Watts' most notorious gangs—Grape Street Watts Crips, Bounty Hunter Watts Bloods, and PJ Watts Crips—formed a cease-fire agreement after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Their pact that may have contributed to the decrease in crime in the area between 1992 and 2000. Beginning before the 1970s, like whites before them, those African Americans who could, left Watts for 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. This process, which some call black flight, is simply part of the increasing suburbanization of African Americans during recent decades, in a journey typical of the larger American society. The black population in Watts has been replaced by successor migrants, primarily Hispanic immigrants of Mexican and Central American ancestry, as well as a smaller proportion of Ethiopian and Indian ancestry. This process of residential 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. [ [http://www.brookings.edu/urban/pubs/20040524_Frey.pdf William H. Frey, "The New Great Migration: Black Americans' Return to the South, 1965-2000", The Brookings Institution, May 2004, pp.1 and 4] , accessed 19 Mar 2008]

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 Towers at 1765 East 107th St, near the Imperial Highway and suburb of Lynwood. This sculptural and architectural landmark has attracted many artists and professionals to the area.

Geography and transportation

Watts is bordered by the cities of South Gate on the east and Lynwood on the southeast, and the unincorporated areas of Willowbrook on the south and Florence 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 Blue and 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.

Emergency services

Fire service

Los Angeles Fire Department [http://lafd.org/fs65.htm Station 65] (Watts) serves the community.

Police service

Los Angeles Police Department operates the nearby Southeast Community Police Station [http://www.lapdonline.org/southeast_community_police_station] .


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 [http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/Jordan_HS/Magnet/magnet.htm] . 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." [http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/Jordan_HS/Jordan/WASC_report_partial_summary.htm] Its athletic teams are known as the Bulldogs. The adjacent Simon Rodia High School is a continuation school for students who cannot attend Jordan. [http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/Markham_MS/ Edwin Markham Middle School] has sixth- through eighth-grade students [http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/parents/ca/pc/2226/] .

Youth Opportunities High School, part of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps https://www.lacorps.org, is also located in Watts.

And 109th Street School [http://notebook.lausd.net/portal/page?_pageid=33,54194&_dad=ptl&_schema=PTL_EP]

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

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 [http://www.the-tidings.com/2004/0305/famtime.htm] . Verbum Dei High School is also located in the Watts area. Another Catholic Elementary school is St. Lawrence Brindisi which is also K Through 8.

There is also a fairly new charter school named Jack H. Skirball Middle School located in Watts. It is located at Avalon and 115th St.

Public libraries

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

Notable residents

*Filmmaker and MacArthur Fellow Charles Burnett grew up in Watts. He is renowned for his film "Killer of Sheep", re-released in the last decade.
*Jazz pioneer Charles Mingus was raised in Watts.
*Olympic Gold Medal Winner Florence Griffith-Joyner was raised in Watts.
*Nobel Prize-winning chemist Glenn Seaborg attended Jordan High School in Watts.
*Singer Tyrese was born and raised in Watts on 113th St.
*Spoken-word pioneers The Watts Prophets were formed in Watts, made what is arguably Hip-Hop and Rap's very first album "Rappin' Black in a White World" made in 1971 before any traces of the South Bronx influence in hip hop
*Walter Scott, Wallace "Scotty Scott", Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson, and Gordy Harmon, the original members of the legendary R&B singing group The Whispers are from Watts.
*West Coast rapper Glasses Malone was born and raised in Watts.
*Jazz musician Don Cherry moved to Watts at four years old, in 1940, and was very active with the local band the Jazz Messiahs
*Kevin Young
*Black Radical Eldridge Cleaver Moved to Watts from Arkansas and was a graduate of Jordan High School, he has made countless references to his love for Watts as a community in his book, "Soul on Ice"
*Black Radical George Jackson Moved to Watts from Chicago, in his young years and became involved in petty thefts and robberies only to turn into one of the leaders of the Black Militant movement.
*World Record holding Gold Medal Olympian Kevin Young alumnus of both David Starr Jordan High School and UCLA was born and raised in Watts.
*Famous Rapper Ras Kass was raised on 99th and Wadsworth in Watts and later moved to Carson.
*Actor Roger Mosley famous for his role as Magnum PI's helicopter pilot was born and raised in Watts
*Rhodes Scholar and Whittier College alumnus Stan Sanders is from Watts
*Jazz great Sonny Criss came of age in the Watts district.
*The late great Eric Allan Dolphy became famous for his work in jazz in Watts.
*Charles Wright, uncle of Compton's Eazy-E is know for his his single "express yourself" with the Charles Wright and the 103rd Street Band
*Valerie Brisco Hooks a Watts native, won three gold medals as an Olympic track and field athlete at the 1984 Olympics


The 1972 sit-com "Sanford and Son," being set in Watts, often made reference to problems in that district.

The television sitcom "Two and a Half Men" includes a reference to Watts.

The song "California Love" by Tupac mentions "In the city of good ol' Watts" in the chorus.

The 1988 film "Colors" featured Watts during the car chase and at the end of the movie.

The movie "Friday" was filmed in Watts.

The 1993 film "Menace II Society" was principally set and shot in and around Watts.

The district is also referenced in the song "West Coast Poplock" By Ronnie Hudson, which was later covered in the rap song "California Love".

Royal Crown review have a song on their 1999 album "Walk On Fire" called "Watts Local".

Singer Tyrese was born and raised in Watts on 99th St and also near 102nd Street School.

Rapper Jay Rock was born and raised in Watts in the Nickerson Gardens Projects.

ee also

*1965 Watts Riot
*1992 Los Angeles riots
*Watts Towers
*Watts Station
*Los Angeles, California
*South Central Los Angeles



MaryEllen Bell Ray, "The City of Watts, California: 1907 to 1926", Los Angeles: Rising Publications, 1985. A definitive early history.

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