Watts Happening Cultural Center
Since 1969, Black art, culture, and activism have flourished in this rare Late-Modern style building in the Watts neighborhood of South L.A.
This building was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) in 2021 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2023.
Los Angeles, California 90002
The Watts Happening Cultural Center also known as the Mafundi Building, and the Robert Pitts Westminster Neighborhood Center, was designed by Robert A. Kennard and Arthur Silvers. Completed in 1970, this Late-Modern, two-story T-shaped building is significant at the local level in the context of African American history as a cultural center for predominately local Black artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, and poets that played an important role in the community after the Watts Uprising in 1965.
In June 2023, the City of Los Angeles and the Watts Happening Cultural Center were awarded a Conserving Black Modernism grant that will support long-term preservation planning. The winning application was a collaborative effort, submitted by the City of Los Angeles with assistance and support from the Los Angeles Conservancy, Friends At Mafundi, the Fifteenth Council District of Los Angeles, the Watts Coffee House and GRoW Annenberg.
On July 15, 2020, the City of Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking a developer to take over the city-owned historic building, raising community concerns over its potential redevelopment. Friends at Mafundi has led efforts to preserve and develop plans for the building’s long-term community-serving use.
In September 2021, Friends at Mafundi successfully added the building to the City’s Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) list. The Los Angeles Conservancy supported the community-driven HCM nomination and subsequently initiated the property’s successful listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2023.
About This Place
About This Place
The Watts Happening Cultural Center was constructed in 1970 to house the Mafundi Institute, a much needed and well-respected organization. Founded in 1967, the Mafundi Institute made an important impact on the community in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising. The 1960s Civil Rights movement had ushered in a political atmosphere of Black Power and cultural alternatives to middle-class assimilation.
The Watts community used the momentum of that movement to take responsibility for healing their neighborhood, taking advantage of government funding and political expression through art. This, along with discrimination in areas of producing all forms of art, fueled the creation of Black arts institutions like the Mafundi Institute, where students could express African aesthetics freely. The Mafundi Institute supplied the programs that taught social as well as artistic skills, while the Watts Neighborhood Center provided a safe space to carry out those programs.
In addition to the Mafundi Institute, many important community-serving organizations have been associated with this building, including the Watts Writers Workshop and the Watts Prophets. Today, the Watts Coffee House, a small Black-owned legacy business, is located on the ground floor of the building.
The Watts Happening Cultural Center was the first major construction in the aftermath of the Watts Uprising. It was constructed at a time when communities were encouraged to organize and advocate for resources. It was designed by the architecture firm of Kennard and Silvers. Both Robert Kennard and Arthur Silvers were inspired by the work of Richard Neutra, Victor Gruen, and Paul Williams. In addition to their architectural practice, they were active leaders in the civil rights movement.
The Watts Happening Cultural Center cultivated Afro-esthetics and played a significant role in the community after the Watts Uprising, particularly in the arts. Hollywood’s working artists supported and trained young artists to get jobs in the various fields of visual arts like dance, film, and T.V.
Located on the exterior northeast facing wall of the building is a mural painted by Elliot Pinkney in 1972, which also served as the Mafundi Institute’s logo. The mural depicts a ripple of “artisans” with the head of a young Black man in the center, painted in the colors of the Pan-African flag – red, green, and black. Pinkney was part of a group of artists in Compton that established the Communicative Arts Academy (CAA) in 1969. He was an accomplished printmaker, muralist, and sculptor. His art can be found throughout the Los Angeles and Compton area along the Blue, Orange, Silver, and Yellow metro lines. The Mafundi mural was restored by Pinkney in 1997.
The Conservancy is working to support community efforts to protect and fully rehabilitate the Watts Happening Cultural Center, to ensure it remains an active part of the Watts community and Black culture.
Following the successful local landmark listing, the Conservancy initiated a nomination for the building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was successfully placed on the National Register on October 27, 2023.