Watts Station

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Watts Station
Watts Station, Los Angeles.JPG
Watts Station, May 2008
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Location1686 E. 103rd Street, Watts, Los Angeles, California
Coordinates 33°56′35″N118°14′34.80″W / 33.94306°N 118.2430000°W / 33.94306; -118.2430000 Coordinates: 33°56′35″N118°14′34.80″W / 33.94306°N 118.2430000°W / 33.94306; -118.2430000
Architectural styleLate Victorian
NRHP reference # 74000523
Added to NRHPMarch 15, 1974 [1]

Watts Station is a train station built in 1904 in Watts, Los Angeles, California. It was one of the first buildings in Watts, and for many years, it was a major stop for the Pacific Electric Railway's "Red Car" service between Los Angeles and Long Beach. It was the only structure that remained intact when stores along 103rd Street in Watts were burned in the 1965 Watts Riots. Remaining untouched in the middle of the stretch of street that came to be known as "Charcoal Alley", the station became a symbol of continuity, hope, and renewal for the Watts community. It has since been declared a Historic-Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Long Beach, California City in California, United States

Long Beach is a city on the Pacific Coast of the United States, within the Los Angeles metropolitan area of Southern California. As of 2010, its population was 462,257. It is the 39th most populous city in the United States and the 7th most populous in California. Long Beach is the second-largest city in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and the third largest in Southern California behind Los Angeles and San Diego. Long Beach is a charter city.

National Register of Historic Places federal list of historic sites in the United States

The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance. A property listed in the National Register, or located within a National Register Historic District, may qualify for tax incentives derived from the total value of expenses incurred preserving the property.


Construction and operation as a Pacific Electric station

Ticket windows at Watts Station Watts Station Ticket Windows.JPG
Ticket windows at Watts Station

Watts was built on the old Rancho La Tajuata. In 1902, the family of Charles H. Watts, for whom the community was later named, sought to spur development of the rancho by donating a 10-acre (40,000 m2) site to the Pacific Electric Railway. Watts Station was built on the site in 1904, serving for more than 50 years as a major railway depot and stop for the Pacific Electric's "Red Car" service between Los Angeles and Long Beach. It was located at a major junction, where lines to San Pedro and Santa Ana branched off from the main line to Long Beach. The station is a single-story, 2,200-square-foot (200 m2), wood-frame structure divided into three rooms. [2] [3] It was one of the first buildings erected in Watts and is one of the few remaining from its early years. [2] It also served as a model for later depots built in La Habra, Covina and Glendora. [3]

La Habra, California City in California, United States

La Habra is a city in the northwestern corner of Orange County, California, United States. In the 2010 census, the city had a population of 60,239. Its related city, La Habra Heights, is located to the north of La Habra, and is in Los Angeles County.

Covina, California City in California

Covina is a city in Los Angeles County, California, about 22 miles (35 km) east of downtown Los Angeles, in the San Gabriel Valley region. The population was 47,796 at the 2010 census, up from 46,837 at the 2000 census. The city's slogan, "One Mile Square and All There", was coined when the incorporated area of the city was only one square mile.

Glendora, California City in California, United States

Glendora is a city in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County, California, 23 miles (37 km) east of downtown Los Angeles. As of the 2010 census, the population of Glendora was 50,073.

When the station opened, it drew people to the area, so much so that the community that grew in the area was initially known as "Watts Station."

With the Watts junction connecting the Long Beach-Santa Ana line to the San Pedro-Redondo line, Watts was able to secure a working-class population who depended on the “Red Car” service for travel. [4] This service helped the Watts community to continue to grow, with many of its population traveling outside the Downtown area for work opportunities. [5]

Santa Ana, California City in California, United States

Santa Ana is the county seat and second most populous city in Orange County, California in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The United States Census Bureau estimated its 2011 population at 329,427, making Santa Ana the 57th most-populous city in the United States.

San Pedro, Los Angeles Neighborhood of Los Angeles in Los Angeles

San Pedro is a community within the city of Los Angeles, California. Formerly a separate city, it consolidated with Los Angeles in 1909. The Port of Los Angeles, a major international seaport, is partially located within San Pedro. The district has grown from being dominated by the fishing industry to become primarily a working class community within the city of Los Angeles.

Redondo Beach, California City in California, United States

Redondo Beach is coastal city in Los Angeles County, California, United States, located in the South Bay region of the Greater Los Angeles area. It is one of three adjacent beach cities along the southern portion of Santa Monica Bay. The population was 66,748 at the 2010 census, up from 63,261 at the 2000 census.

The “Red Car” service in Watts Station also allowed for leisure and enjoyment. The population in Watts were not confined to the boundaries of their neighborhoods but free to enjoy the entertainment offered by distant communities, with many using the “Red Cars” to attend nightclubs and dance halls within the larger urban region. [6]

A vintage 1906 photograph of the station from the USC Digital Archives can be viewed here. Another classic image of the station from the collections of the Los Angeles Public Library can be seen here.

Los Angeles Public Library library system of the city of Los Angeles, California

The Los Angeles Public Library system (LAPL) serves the residents of the City of Los Angeles. The system holds more than six million volumes, and with over 18 million residents in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, it serves the largest population of any publicly funded library system in the United States. The system is overseen by a Board of Library Commissioners with five members appointed by the mayor of Los Angeles in staggered terms in accordance with the city charter.

The building remained an active depot until passenger rail service was discontinued in 1961.

Effects of its discontinuation

The end of the “Red Car” in Watts brought about change that many often overlook. With its closing, Watts Station lost its only form of transportation, affecting the population in Watts. Many of its low-income residents could also not afford to own automobiles, which were becoming the norm. The spread of employment across Los Angeles and lack of transportation resulted in less employment opportunities and more traveling expenses for the people in Watts. [7]

Colorful and violent history

From its beginning, Watts Station had a colorful and violent history. Incidents occurring around Watts Station in its early years including the following:

Symbol of hope along "Charcoal Alley"

View of Watts Station from tracks Watts Station, May 2008.jpg
View of Watts Station from tracks

In August 1965, the Watts Riots resulted in the destruction of buildings up and down 103rd Street—the main commercial thoroughfare in Watts. Watts Station was situated in the center of the one-mile (1.6 km) stretch of 103rd Street between Compton and Wilmington Avenue that came to be known as "Charcoal Alley" due to the widespread destruction. [16] [17] [18] One observer recalled: "Both sides of 103rd Street were ablaze now. The thoroughfare was a sea of flames that emitted heat so unbearable that I believed my skin was being seared off." [19] Another account of the riots along "Charcoal Alley" states: "On the third day of the Watts Riots, 103rd St. was burned to the ground." [20] In the middle of the rubble and widespread destruction along "Charcoal Alley", the Los Angeles Times reported that "the train station was the only structure that remained intact when stores along 103rd Street burned during the Watts riots." [21] The survival of the old wood-framed Watts Station, whether an intentional omission or a mere coincidence, resulted in the station becoming, as the Los Angeles Times put it, "a symbol of continuity, hope and renewal" for the Watts community. [21]

Historic designation and restoration

Four months after the riots, the station was declared a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM #36) by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission. [2] [22] It was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In the 1980s, after the station had been vacant for many years, the Community Redevelopment Agency spent $700,000 to restore the structure to its original exterior design. The station was re-opened in 1989 as a customer service office for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and a small museum of Watts history. [3] [21] Mayor Tom Bradley attended the dedication ceremony and said: "Those days of glory are going to return, and we are going to be at the heart of the action right here at the Watts train station." [21]

In 1990, the Metro Blue Line resumed train service from Los Angeles to Long Beach along the old Pacific Electric right of way. Though the old Watts Station does not serve as a passenger platform or ticket booth for the new Blue Line, [21] the trains do stop at a new "Watts Station", 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn, on 103rd Street, at a location next to the old Watts Station. [23] More than 87 motorists and pedestrians having been killed at Blue Line crossings since 1990, [24] making it the deadliest and most accident-prone light rail line in the country. [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

Pacific Electric

The Pacific Electric Railway Company, nicknamed the Red Cars, was a privately owned mass transit system in Southern California consisting of electrically powered streetcars, interurban cars, and buses and was the largest electric railway system in the world in the 1920s. Organized around the city centers of Los Angeles and San Bernardino, it connected cities in Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino County and Riverside County.

Watts is plural for the unit of power.

Watts, Los Angeles Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Watts is a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles, California. It is located within the South Los Angeles region, bordering the cities of Lynwood and South Gate to the east and southeast, respectively, and the unincorporated community of Willowbrook to the south.

Watts, California

Watts, California, was a city of the sixth class that existed in Los Angeles County, California, between 1907 and 1926, when it was consolidated with the City of Los Angeles and became one of the neighborhoods in the southern part of that city.

Union Station (Los Angeles) Main railway station in Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) is the main railway station in Los Angeles, California, and the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States. It opened in May 1939 as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, replacing La Grande Station and Central Station.

Blue Line (Los Angeles Metro) light rail line running north-south route between Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles

The Blue Line is a 22.0-mile (35.4 km) light rail line running north-south between Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, passing through Downtown Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, Watts, Willowbrook, Compton, Rancho Dominguez and Long Beach in Los Angeles County. It is one of six lines in the Metro Rail system. Opened in 1990, it is the system's oldest and third busiest line with an estimated 22.38 million boardings per year as of December 2017. It is operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Expo Line (Los Angeles Metro) light-rail line running between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City

The Expo Line is a 15.2 mi (24.5 km) light rail line that runs between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The line is named after Exposition Boulevard, which it runs alongside for most of its route. It is one of the six lines in the Metro Rail system, and is operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).

Pacific Electric Building

The historic Pacific Electric Building opened in 1905 as the terminal for the Pacific Electric Red Car Lines running east and south of downtown Los Angeles, as well as the company's main headquarters building. It was designed by architect Thornton Fitzhugh. Though not the first modern building in Los Angeles, nor the tallest, its large footprint and ten-floor height made it the largest building in floor area west of Chicago for several decades. Above the main floor terminal were five floors of offices and on the top three floors, the Jonathan Club, one of the city's leading businessmen's clubs. The club moved to its own building on Figueroa Street in 1925. After the absorption of the Pacific Electric into the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1911, the PE Building became the primary Los Angeles offices for the Southern Pacific.

Los Angeles Railway former system of streetcars that operated in central Los Angeles, California

The Los Angeles Railway was a system of streetcars that operated in Central Los Angeles and surrounding neighborhoods between 1901 and 1963. It operated on 3 ft 6 in narrow gauge tracks. The company carried many more passengers than the Pacific Electric Railway's Red Cars, which served a larger area of Los Angeles.

Purple Line (Los Angeles Metro) subway line in Los Angeles, operated by LACMTA

The Purple Line is a heavy rail subway line operating in Los Angeles, running between downtown and the Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown districts. It is one of six lines on the Metro Rail System, operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Willow Street station Los Angeles Metro station

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103rd Street/Watts Towers station Los Angeles Metro station

103rd Street/Watts Towers is an at grade light rail station on the Los Angeles County Metro Blue Line.

Waterfront Red Car

The Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Red Car Line is a currently non-operational 1.5-mile (2.4 km) heritage streetcar line for public transit along the waterfront in San Pedro, at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California. It opened for service in July 2003, with a construction cost of $10 million. Service ended on September 27, 2015 due to major construction projects that would result in the demolition of a portion of the route. In March 2016 development plans for the port were announced which would include resumption of service on the Waterfront Red Car Line.

The Santa Monica Air Line was an interurban air-line railroad operated by the Pacific Electric between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles which ran from 1909 to 1953 and has been reactivated as the Expo Line.

Redondo via Gardena was a line of the Pacific Electric Railway. One of two routes to Redondo Beach, this one was faster than Redondo Beach via Playa del Rey as a result of its routing along the Watts 4-track main line.

The Long Beach Line was a major interurban railway operated by the Pacific Electric Railway between Los Angeles and Long Beach, California via Florence, Watts, and Compton. Service began in 1902 and lasted until 1961, the last line of the system to be replaced by buses. However, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company continued to operate freight on the tracks, as the Union Pacific Railroad still does north of Dominguez Junction, and in 1990 the Southern California Rapid Transit District opened the Blue Line light rail along the same right-of-way.

Los Angeles Pacific Railroad

Los Angeles Pacific Railroad (1899−1906) was an electric railway and steam locomotive public transit and cargo shipping railway system in Los Angeles County, California. At is peak it had 180-miles of track from Pasadena, through Downtown Los Angeles, the Westside, and Santa Monica, then to the South Bay towns along Santa Monica Bay.

Long Wharf (Santa Monica)

The Long Wharf in Santa Monica, also known as Port Los Angeles or the Mile Long Pier, was an extensive pier wharf constructed by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in Santa Monica Bay from 1892–94. When it opened in 1894, it was the longest wharf in the world, measuring approximately 4,700 feet. It served as a cargo and passenger port until 1913, and in 1919 removal of the wharf started. The wharf, the 1000 foot tip of the pier, was removed by 1920. The remaining 3,600 feet of pier was used as a run down fishing pier until 1933, when the remainder of the pier was removed. One of the major imports to the wharf was lumber from Northern ports, to help in the construction boom in Southern California. Southern Pacific Railroad and the street cars of the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad served the wharf. Los Angeles Pacific Railroad ran passenger trams to the wharf and from midnight to sunrise ran cargo cars.

The Watts line was a local line of the Pacific Electric Railway that operated between the Pacific Electric Building in Downtown Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States and the Watts Station at 103rd Street in Watts, Los Angeles. It was the primary local district service for the Southern District, which also included the Long Beach, San Pedro, Santa Ana and Whittier lines. The route operated along the Southern Division's Four Tracks route, with the Watts Line using the outer tracks and the Long Beach line and other interurban and express lines using the inner tracks. It operated between 1904 and 1958. During the 1910s, its service was combined with the South Pasadena Line of the Northern District. From 1938 to 1950, the line was combined with the Sierra Vista Line, which was the main local line in the Northern District. Since 1990, service along the Watts Line between Washington Boulevard and 103rd Street has been operated by the Los Angeles Metro Blue Line, with stations at Washington Boulevard, Vernon Avenue, Slauson Avenue, Florence Avenue, Firestone Boulevard and 103rd Street.

Amoco Junction was a junction on the Pacific Electric Railway's Southern District. It was located in Nevin, South Central Los Angeles at 25th Street and Long Beach Boulevard. It was named after a nearby American Olive Company (AmOCo) plant. It was the junction where the Santa Monica Air Line split off from the Watts, Long Beach and other Southern District Lines. It was one of several points at which a tower crossed the quadruple tracks between Downtown Los Angeles and Watts. Despite being a junction, many lines did not stop at Amoco, which was only served by local lines. Service was provided to Amoco Junction between 1904 and 1958. Though it is located along the route of the Los Angeles Metro Blue Line, it is not a stop or station on it, nor it is it a station on the Expo Line that replaced the Santa Monica Air Line.


  1. National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.
  2. 1 2 3 "Watts Station Declared: 'Of Historic Significance'" (PDF). Los Angeles Sentinel. 1965-12-09.
  3. 1 2 3 "Historic Train Depot in Watts Set For $310,000 Restoration". Los Angeles Times. 1986-11-09.
  4. Avila, Eric (2004). Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles. University of California Press. p. 35. ISBN   9780520939714.
  5. Avila, Eric (2004). Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles. University of California Press. p. 165. ISBN   9780520939714.
  6. Avila, Eric (2004). Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles. University of California Press. p. 166. ISBN   9780520939714.
  7. Elkind, Ethan (2014). Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City. University of California Press. p. 6. ISBN   9780520957206.
  8. 1 2 3 "Dies Awful Death To Save Her Child". Los Angeles Times. 1904-05-19.
  9. "Ground To Death: Miss Mary Ryan Steps Before Pacific Electric Flyer to Shocking Fate". Los Angeles Times. 1904-12-28.
  10. 1 2 3 "Duke of Watts Was 'Pinched': Scared Italian Grocers Had No Passports; Terrance Mulligan Ordered Them Out of His Dominions, and They Flew to the City to 'Get the Law on Him' - War Busted Loose on the Pacific Electric". Los Angeles Times. 1905-05-14.
  11. "Stepped to His Death: Laborer Employed by Pacific Electric Killed by Long Beach Car at Watts Station". Los Angeles Times. 1905-07-30.
  12. "Cannot Recover: Mexican Struck by Car Near Watts Station Sustains Injuries Which Will Prove Fatal". Los Angeles Times. 1906-02-19.
  13. "Motorman May Die: He Is Pinched Between Two Cars of Work Train at Watts Station; Taken to Hospital". Los Angeles Times. 1906-12-09.
  14. 1 2 "Shoots Into Car Window: Woman's Bad Aim Endangers Many Passengers; Mrs. Welsh Fires on Mate at Watts Station; Climax to Numerous Stormy Domestic Quarrels". Los Angeles Times. 1906-01-27.
  15. 1 2 "Says He Can't Get Fair Trial: Trolley Car Guard Wants a Change of Venue; Declares Gangsters Menace City Court at Watts; Faces Disturbing of Peace Charge for Doing 'Duty'". Los Angeles Times. 1919-09-16.
  16. Ray Hebert (1966-02-27). "Hope Brightens for Riot Areas: Action Promises Revitalization of Forgotten Slum". Los Angeles Times.("In Watts, for example, a mall is being discussed for a stretch of 103rd Street -- the riot's infamous 'charcoal' alley between Compton and Wilmington Ave.")
  17. Mitchell Landsberg and Valerie Reitman (2005-08-11). "Watts Riots, 40 Years Later". Los Angeles Times. ("They had just secured one of the hardest-hit areas of Watts, a stretch of 103rd Street that had been dubbed 'Charcoal Alley.'")
  18. Art Berman (1965-12-06). "Watts Scars Heal Slowly: Businessman's New Store Looted". Los Angeles Times.("Along a mile of 103rd Street in Watts -- dubbed 'Charcoal Alley' after 41 commercial buildings were destroyed by fire during the riot -- block after block is dotted with bare or rubble-filled lots or blackened shells.")
  19. Betty Pleasant (2005-08-03). "Eyewitness Account of the Watts Riots". The Wave Newspapers.
  20. "Charcoal Alley". Community Walk.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 Paul Feldman (1989-03-17). "Watts New? Reopening of Historic Red Car Station as Museum and DWP Office Seen as Symbol of Hope, Renewal". Los Angeles Times.
  22. Los Angeles Department of City Planning (2007-09-07). "Historic - Cultural Monuments (HCM) Listing: City Declared Monuments" (PDF). City of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  23. "Blue Line Train Kills Pedestrian at Watts Station". Los Angeles Times. 1999-06-25.
  24. "Summary of Blue Line Train/Vehicle and Train/Pedestrian Accidents". Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. June 2007.
  25. "Light rail fatalities, 1990-2002". American Public Transportation Association. 2005-05-20.
  26. "Artwork | Blue Line Totems in Red". www.metro.net. Retrieved 2018-12-05.