Believe it or not, South LA has some pretty historic buildings. And these three we’ll make you think twice about South LA history. Hey guys and welcome back to The South LA Recap. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to learn more about South LA on the regular.
This week, we’re going to dive into some quick facts on some of the region’s most historic buildings. We’ll be looking at a library, a train station, and a church. But it’s not what it sounds like. Let’s get into it.
Vermont Square Branch
Did you know South LA holds one of the oldest libraries in the city? In the Vermont Square neighborhood, in between 49th street and Budlong avenue, you’ll find the Vermont Square Library nestled into a cozy neighborhood. The library, while not the oldest in the city, was the Los Angeles Public Library’s first permanent location. Before this branch, the Los Angeles Public Library rented spaces across the city.
Funded entirely through a grant by Andrew Carnegie’s Carnegie Foundation, Los Angeles City built the library in 1913. Today, the Vermont Square library is one of three Carnegie libraries still standing, and one of 72 libraries operated by the Los Angeles Public Library.
The Vermont Square Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Next up on the list is the Watts Station. If you’ve driven through Watts, then you’ve probably seen this bright orange, late Victorian-style train station that became defunct in 1961. When this station was active, both freight and passenger trains stopped here.
If you think this building looks simple, you’re right because it’s pretty old. This former train station was built in 1904 by the Pacific Electric Railway company to connect the rail through Los Angeles to Long Beach. The Watts family, a family of developers who subdivided the Watts neighborhood, donated a subdivision of land to the Pacific Electric Railway, which became the Watts Station. And, yes, the Watts family is the namesake for this South LA neighborhood if you were wondering.
The Watts Station is a critical part of South LA history. For many Black residents who migrated from the South, the Watts Station was their first contact point with Los Angeles. Today, the Watts Station stands as the only building that remained standing after the 1965 Watts Riot on 103rd Street.
The Watts Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974
Just like how Harlem has the Apollo Theater, at one point, South Los Angeles, at one time, had the Lincoln Theater.
The Lincoln Theater opened on the corner of 23rd Street Central Avenue in 1927. Showing a mix of motion pictures and liver performances, the Lincoln Theater could sit 2,100 people. In the once-bustling African-American neighborhood of Historic South Central, the theater catered to both Black and White patrons. And a part of the booming Jazz Corridor of Central Avenue, Duke Ellington, Nat Cole, Fats Domino, and BB King were some of the many music celebrities who performed here.
By 1961, the theater ceased showing films and was converted into a Black church. In the late 70s, it was converted into a mosque for black Muslims. And today, you’ll find it the home to a local Latino church.
The Lincoln Theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.