South LA comprises such notable neighbourhoods as Watts, Compton and Inglewood, but beyond the USC campus and Exposition Park hardly ranks on the tourist circuit – especially since it burst onto the world’s TV screens as the focal point of the April 1992 riots. It’s better known as South Central, but LA City Council voted to change the name in 2003 in the hopes of disassociating the area with connotations of gang violence and economic depression. It’s generally a place to visit with caution or with someone who knows the area, though it’s safe enough in daytime around the main drags.
The neighbourhood of Watts provides a compelling reason to delve deeper into South LA: the fabulous, Gaudí-esque Watts Towers. Constructed from iron, stainless steel, old bedsteads and cement, and decorated with fragments of bottles and around seventy thousand crushed seashells, these seventeen striking pieces of street art were built by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia, who had no artistic training but laboured over the towers’ construction from 1921 to 1954. Once finished, he left the area, refused to talk about the towers and faded into obscurity, dying in 1965. Entry is by guided tour only, but you can still see the towers through the fence if you visit when it’s closed.