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Watts, Los Angeles facts for kids

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Watts' most famous landmark, the Watts Towers created by Simon Rodia
Watts' most famous landmark, the Watts Towers created by Simon Rodia
Watts as mapped by the Los Angeles Times
Watts as mapped by the Los Angeles Times
Watts is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Location in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Country United States
State California
County County of Los Angeles
City City of Los Angeles
 • Total 2.0 sq mi (5 km2)
 • Total 34,830
 • Density 17,350/sq mi (6,700/km2)
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 323

Watts is a 2.12-square-mile neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, within the South Los Angeles region. 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.

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 was also known for its number of youth gangs, which has decreased over the years. 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. There is one library branch, and there are four high schools. Watts has also been known as a site for 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.

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.

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.

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. Racially restrictive covenants prevented blacks from living in any other neighborhoods outside of Central Avenue District and Watts.

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).

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.

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 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 median 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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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

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

Parks and recreation

The following recreation facilities are within the Watts boundaries:

  • Watts Senior Citizen Center, 1657 East Century Boulevard
  • 109th Street Recreation Center, 1464 East 109th Street. The center, which acts as a Los Angeles Police Department stop-in center, has an auditorium, a lighted baseball diamond, lighted indoor and outdoor basketball courts, a children's play area, a lighted football field, an indoor gymnasium with weights, an outdoor gymnasium without weights, a lighted soccer field, and lighted tennis courts. The 109th Street Pool is a seasonal outdoor unheated pool. In June 2008, 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. The pool, located between the Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs public housing complexes, also lay between two competing gangs in 2008.
  • Unnamed Park, Evers Street


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.

The Watts station was a train station built in 1904. It is a National Historic Landmark. 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.

  • Watts Christmas Parade

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.

  • Watts Summer Games

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.

Performing arts


Epifani Dance Company was founded by Lakesha Buchanon in Watts in 2002. Their motto is "Where Dance Is More Than Movement". 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.

In popular culture

  • Sanford and Son, the popular 1970s television series, was set in Watts, and the neighborhood was mentioned prominently by the characters.
  • Watts, along with several other California areas, is referenced in “California Love” by 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre & Roger Troutman and "Creep N Crawl" by Eazy E.
  • In the motion picture The Big Lebowski, one of the story plots involves the embezzlement of a million dollars from a foundation that ensures a college education for youngsters from Watts, so-called Little Lebowski Urban Achievers.
  • The Quantum Leap Episode, "Black on White On Fire", is set during the 1965 Watts Riots.
  • The Two and a Half Men Episode, "Weekend in Bangkok with Two Olympic Gymnasts", makes reference to Watts during a brief scene in the episode.

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