Cornerstone Theater Company


Jordan Downs Transformation by the Decade-1940’s

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” -Winston Churchill

Changing landscapes, changing narratives and changing demographics. As we prepare to open A Jordan Downs Illumination on May 18th, it’s impossible to overlook the inevitability of change. Over the next few days, we’re taking a look at the many transformations that have laid the foundation for the Jordan Downs community as it exists today.

“You get a home, you get a home… everybody gets a home!”

In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Wagner-Steagall act, introducing public housing and establishing the United States Housing Authority.

President Roosevelt at the opening of Terrace Village Housing Project in Pittsburgh, PA.

Soon after, the United States entered World War II. Factories began to appear in areas that were previously used for agriculture. Workers began moving to Southern California to work in the Bethlehem Steel factory and others like it.  1940, Roosevelt signed an additional act authorizing the use of federal funds to provide housing for war workers.

US Housing Act of 1940

With this act, the entire area of what is now Watts began to transform. And at the center of the transformation was Jordan Downs.

Housing Authority employee Frank Wilkinson looks over plans.
Mapping out Jordan Downs.

On May 26, 1944, Jordan Downs opened along with 2 other housing projects in Watts. 700 units, with a playground for the kids and beautiful lawns and gardens, Jordan Downs was the future of housing in America.

Full page ad in the Los Angeles Times congratulating HACLA on the opening of Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts and Pueblo Del Rio.

The Housing Authority of Los Angeles (HACLA) envisioned dozens of housing projects, all over the city. Bringing together people of all racial backgrounds, Jordan Downs was a model for that vision.

Residents working together.

That vision that would soon change, however, as the war ended and a new threat from within began to make its way into the politics of public housing.

This blog series was created by Lindsay “LJ” Jenkins, A Jordan Downs Illumination Producing Associate. The material within these blogs was collected during the creation of A Jordan Downs Illumination premiering May 17-26, 2019 at the Jordan Downs Recreation Center in Watts. CLICK HERE to find out more and purchase tickets.

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