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Frank Gehry designing new social service campus in Watts



Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
Desiree Lee teaches a Head Start student how to wash his hands at the site in Imperial Gardens in Watts.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
A now empty Los Angeles County health clinic will be demolished to make way for a new Children's Institute building designed by the architect Frank Gehry.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
Children's Institute renovated this space at its location in Watts to make it more inviting for community members to come in and seek services.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
A young girl takes a nap at the Head Start facility in Imperial Gardens run by the Children's Institute. The program helps kids in rough neighborhoods learn in a safe environment.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
This is one of the waiting rooms inside the old L.A. county health clinic in Watts. The building will be demolished to make way for a new clinic designed by the architect Frank Gehry.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
In contrast to a sterile health clinic, Children's Institute makes its space more inviting to encourage people in the community to come in and seek mental health services.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
A young boy at the Head Start facility in Imperial Gardens in Watts puts on his shoes before taking a nap. The program offers a safe haven for children who may live in housing projects known for drug activity and violence.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
Pictured is one of the now empty exam rooms in the closed L.A. county health clinic in Watts. Children's Institute plans to construct a new building that will be more inviting to those seeking mental health services.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.
A playground at the Head Start facility run by Children's Institute is a stark contrast to the Imperial Gardens neighborhood that surrounds the building.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC


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The social service organization Children’s Institute Inc. is planning a new campus in Watts designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

It’s a small coup for the institute, which began working in Watts in 2007 and is best known for the 10 preschool sites it runs in the community. Yet it offers more than just free preschool.

In space once occupied by the closed Los Angeles County South Health Clinic, the institute is pulling together clinical and mental health services, family services such as parenting training, and youth development programs that include art classes and leadership training. Parents walk in the door to sign up for Head Start and often access other needed services.

“Children’s Institute in an arrangement with the county was able to take over the space and we have renovated one of the two buildings in order to provide our blend of youth development and clinical and family support services here at this site,” said Nina Revoyr, the institute’s executive vice president.

The Gehry project will further centralize the institute's services within a campus setting and advance a larger vision to visually transform the low-income neighborhood of Watts.

“Other than the Watts Towers, which are spectacular and beautiful and special, there’s not a lot in the community that speaks of beauty, that speaks of dreaming, that speaks of perseverance and a whimsical sense of possibility,” Revoyr said.

Jacqueline Atkins, a psychologist and executive with the Children's Institute, grew up in Watts and went regularly with her mother to the County South Health Center for routine health needs. She remembers visiting the rundown center for immunizations; it also served as a place to treat sexually transmitted diseases.

“How depressing to realize what every child and every adult, what messages they received every day in this community,” Atkins said.

Jacqueline Ortega, who also grew up in Watts, expects the new design with centralized services will help her and other young mothers.

She and her family utilize many of the Children’s Institute services, from Early Head Start to parenting classes, where she has learned to use timeout instead of shouting or hitting.

“It would be useful to go in one place,” she said. “It’s kind of hard getting two little ones, one falls asleep and then the other, and to be moving about in different places, it’s kind of difficult.”

Plans call for Gehry to deliver his designs by the end of the year. Then begins the institute’s fundraising effort to secure the needed tens of millions of dollars. Donations are already coming in, some of them in the seven-figure range, according to Revoyr.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016, with the campus opening in Watts in 2017.