The old abandoned campus of Pepperdine University at 80th Street and Vermont Avenue is worth visiting. Many of the buildings are Art Deco. It is one of the most visible examples of white flight. The school was located here from 1937 to 1972 but left for a new location in Malibu. The only prominent structure that is left is the Administration Building, a graceful Moderne tower.
The Watts Towers, which is sometimes called the Rodia Towers, is located at 1765 E. 107th Street and is the main attraction of Watts. It is built from iron, stainless steel, old cement and bedframes, and decorated with bottle fragments from about 70,000 crushed seashells. The structure was built by an Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia, who had no background or training but labored for 33 years from 1921 to 1954 to construct the tower. He refused help and did not even have an explanation of why he built the tower. After completing it, he left the area and faded into obscurity. The tower stands at 100 feet and has been declared a cultural landmark. The tower houses the Watts Tower Arts Center, a community arts center that was opened in 1970.
Watts was first settled by Mexican settlers in the 1820s and the ranchos were used for grazing and beef production. In the 1870s, the district was subdivided into small farms and homes. Development increased even further with the arrival of the railroad, and many of the early settlers were railroad workers. In the early 20th century, African Americans started to move into the district and by 1940 it was predominantly black. During WWII, housing projects were built in Watts to house workers in the defense and war-related industries in LA. “White flight” continued until the district was populated entirely by African Americans by the 1960s.
Perhaps because the district was populated by working-class African Americans, the city run by white politicians provided Watts with inadequate public services. Coupled with the treatment of the black community by police, the longstanding resentment among blacks exploded in the summer of 1965 with the Watts Riots. The event arose when a black youth was arrested on drunk-driving charges outside of Watts. During the arrest, residents approached the police officers and began throwing rocks at them, resulting in an ensuing struggle. In the aftermath, some 34 people were killed and thousands were injured and arrested. Many businesses perceived to have treated blacks unfairly were targeted, damaged, and destroyed.
In the 1970s, Watts became the center of gang violence in LA. Over 20,000 homicides occurred during this period and gang wars between the Crips and Bloods peaked. Crime has since declined substantially, however, since the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Today, the district has worked to overcome its reputation as a poor and crime-filled area and has improved significantly. The district features a number of museums and art galleries and is worth visiting during the day.
Dickey, Jeff. Los Angeles, 3rd Edition. Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN: 1843530589.
“Watts, Los Angeles, California.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watts%2C_Los_Angeles%2C_California>
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