Monday, April 6, 2009
The Watts Towers... South Central Los Angeles
The Watts Towers, consisting of seventeen major sculptures constructed of structural steel and covered with mortar, are the work of one man - Simon Rodia. Rodia, born Sabato Rodia in Ribottoli, Italy in 1879, was known by a variety of names including Don Simon, Simon Rodilla, Sam and Simon. Although his neighbors in Watts knew him as "Sam Rodilla", the official name of his work is "the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia".
Rodia's older brother immigrated to the United States in 1895 and settled in Pennsylvania where he worked in the coal mines. Rodia followed his brother a few years later. Little is known about his early life in the United States except that he moved to the west coast and found work in rock quarries and logging and railroad camps as a construction worker.
In 1921, Rodia purchased the triangular-shaped lot at 1761-1765 107th Street in Los Angeles and began to construct his masterpiece, which he called "Nuestro Pueblo" (meaning "our town"). For 34 years, Rodia worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs. Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer's belt and buckle.
Construction worker by day and artist by night, Rodia adorned his towers with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile, a rare piece of 19th-century, hand painted Canton ware and many pieces of 20th-century American ceramics. Rodia once said, "I had it in mind to do something big and I did it." The tallest of his towers stands 99½ feet and contains the longest slender reinforced concrete column in the world. The monument also features a gazebo with a circular bench, three bird baths, a center column and a spire reaching a height of 38 feet. Rodia's "ship of Marco Polo" has a spire of 28 feet, and the 140-foot long "south wall" is decorated extensively with tiles, sea shells, pottery, glass and hand-drawn designs.
In 1955, when Rodia was approaching 75, he deeded his property to a neighbor and retired to Martinez, California to be near his family. A fire ruined Rodia's little house in 1956. Within a few years the Department of Building and Safety ordered the property demolished. A group of concerned citizens, calling themselves "The Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts", fought successfully to save the Towers by collecting signatures and money and devising an engineering test in 1959 that proved the Towers' strength and safety.
In 1975, the committee, which had persevered the unique work of art for 16 years, gave the 'Towers and adjoining Arts Center building to the City of Los Angeles for operation and maintenance. In 1978, the Towers were deeded to the State, which undertook extensive restoration of the three main towers. . In 1985, continuing restoration responsibilities were given to the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and currently both the Towers and the Watts Towers Arts Center are under the operation of the Cultural Affairs Department.
While the Towers fall into no strict art category, international authorities and the general public alike have lauded them as a unique monument to the human spirit and the persistence of a singular vision. The Watts Towers, listed on the National Register of Historic Places are a National Historic Landmark, a State of California Historic Park and Historic-Cultural Monument No. 15, as designated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.
The Cultural Affairs Department, through the Watts Towers Arts Center, provides diverse cultural enrichment programming through tours, lectures, changing exhibits and studio workshops for both teachers and school children. Each year, thousands of people are attracted to the Towers' site for the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival and the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival.
The towers are located at 1765 East 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA
Latitude/Longitude: 33.9406 / -118.2419