Sunday Morning in Watts

This weekend Puja and I went to visit her brother AP to celebrate his birthday in Pasadena, so we didn’t get to do our weekly hike in San Diego. This worked out fine for us because the temperature was roughly one hundred degrees even in the cooler parts of Southern California.

AP went scuba diving in Laguna Sunday morning, so this left us with a few hours to go explore Watts. I recently got re-interested in going to see the Watts Towers when I saw this video on Pinterest.

I was expecting it to be difficult to photograph, and it certainly was. I knew about the fence. What I didn’t know is that it is open to the public at certain restricted hours, I would love to go back sometime when we can go inside and look around.

Here is one I would really like to reshoot. It was difficult because I had to reach through the fence to do this montage.

This work of sculture was deeply impressive to see in person. You can see the immense effort it took Sobato Rodia to put together. It was made entirely out of found scraps of metal. You could also see his training as a mason really shine through when you look at the tile and sculptural work at the base of the structure.

Part of me kept thinking of a miniature golf course looking at it. That might sound condescending, but that is the nature of this style of art, called American naive art. It has a naive, childlike appearance. Yet there is a clear sense of mastery behind it.

Another example of this style is Salvation Mountain near the Salton Sea, which I am now even more interested in going out to explore.

After spending some time at and around Watts Tower, Puja and I decided to explore Watts a little bit. Nearby is another national landmark, the 103rd Street  Metro Station. From there we ended up in a shopping center called the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Shopping Center. It is surrounded by wrought iron fencing with gates that close, probably each night. We pulled in there to stop and look up the location of some housing projects. From there we went to Jordan Downs housing project and then Nickerson Gardens. Jordan Downs was once a military barracks. There is a lot of razor wire at the entrance, but not around the entire complex. Nickerson Gardens had a prison like feel to it, but not nearly as severely as Jordan Downs. I didn’t take any pictures of the projects, though I wanted to, but these are people’s homes and I wanted to be respectful of that.

Seeing the projects got Puja and me reflecting on some of the students we tutored back in college. We each had several students who were struggling to get out of places like this. Coincidentally, this week’s episode of This American Life was very apropos; it was about why children growing up in poverty struggle so hard in school and in life.

With some driving around we saw some remarkable graffiti, very colorful. And a massive industrial area that seems to be built around scrap metal recycling. There were many smashed cars and piles of ragged scraps of metal. The textures were amazing, but I didn’t stop to photograph them.

Some cool graffiti in a heavily industrial area.

We learned these two housing projects are the birth place of the largest gangs in California, the Crips and the Bloods, and several of their chapters. In the 1990’s the projects were 95% black, today they are closer to 35% black, occupied now more by Hispanic immigrant families. But you couldn’t tell by the people we saw as we were driving around. All but a handful of people we saw were black. I don’t know why the discrepancy.


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