The Watts Towers , Towers of Simon Rodia , or Nuestro Pueblo ("our town") are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural structures within the Simon Rodia State Historic Park in the Watts community of Los Angeles. The tallest of the towers reaches a height of over 99 feet (30 m). The towers and walls were designed and built by Sabato ("Simon") Rodia (1879–1965), an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. The work is an example of outsider art and Italian-American naïve art. [28] [29]

The Watts Towers are located near the 103rd Street/Watts Towers Los Angeles Metro station of the Los Angeles County Metro Rail Blue Line, and off the I-105 Century Freeway. They were designated a National Historic Landmark and a California Historical Landmark in 1990. [28] [2] They are also a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and on the National Register of Historic Places in Los Angeles.

Design and construction

The sculptures' armatures are constructed from steel rebar and Rodia's own concoction of a type of concrete, wrapped with wire mesh. The main supports are embedded with pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass. They are decorated with found objects, including bottles, ceramic tiles, seashells, figurines, mirrors, and much more. Rodia called the Towers "Nuestro Pueblo" ("our town" in Spanish). He built them with no special equipment or predetermined design, working alone with hand tools. Neighborhood children brought pieces of broken pottery to Rodia, and he also used damaged pieces from the Malibu Pottery and CALCO (California Clay Products Company). Green glass includes recognizable soft drink bottles from the 1930s through 1950s, some still bearing the former logos of 7 Up, Squirt, Bubble Up, and Canada Dry ; blue glass appears to be from milk of magnesia bottles.

Rodia bent much of the Towers' framework from scrap rebar, using nearby railroad tracks as a makeshift vise. Other items came from alongside the Pacific Electric Railway right-of-way between Watts and Wilmington. Rodia often walked the right-of-way all the way to Wilmington in search of material, a distance of nearly 20 miles (32 km).

In 1955, Rodia quit claimed his property to a neighbor and left, reportedly tired of battling with the City of Los Angeles for permits, and because he understood the possible consequences of his aging and being alone. He moved to Martinez, California to be with his sister and never returned. He died ten years later.

Preservation after Rodia

Rodia's bungalow inside the enclosure was burned down as a result of an accident on the Fourth of July 1956 [23] , and the City of Los Angeles condemned the structure and ordered it all to be destroyed. Actor Nicholas King and a film editor William Cartwright visited the site in 1959, and purchased the property from that neighbor for $2,000 in order to preserve it. The City's decision to pursue expediting the demolition was still in force. The towers had already become famous and there was opposition from around the world. King, Cartwright, architects, artists, enthusiasts, academics, and community activists formed the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts. The Committee negotiated with the city to allow for an engineering test to establish the safety of the structures and avoid demolition of the structures.

The test took place on October 10, 1959. For the test, steel cable was attached to each Tower and a crane was used to exert lateral force, all connected to a 'load-force' meter. The crane was unable to topple or even shift the Towers with the forces applied, and the test was concluded when the crane experienced mechanical failure. Bud Goldstone and Edward Farrell were the engineer and architect leading the team. The stress test registered 10,000 lbs. The Towers are anchored less than 2 feet (0.61 m) in the ground, and have been highlighted in architectural textbooks, and have changed the way some structures are designed for stability and endurance.

The Committee preserved the Towers independently until 1975 when for the purpose of guardianship, they partnered with the City of Los Angeles. The City partnered with the State of California in 1978. It is operated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and curated by the Watts Towers Arts Center/Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center, which grew out of the Youth Arts Classes established in the house structure more than 50 years ago.

Image
Wall detail, with mosaic

In February 2011, LACMA received a grant from the James Irvine Foundation to scientifically assess and report on the condition of the Watts Towers, to continue to preserve the undisturbed structural integrity and composition of the aging works of art. [7]

The Watts Towers are considered one of Southern California's most culturally significant public artworks. [8] They are one of nine folk art sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. [28] [29] [9] The towers were also designated a California Historical Landmark in 1990. [2]

Conservation and damage

The weather and moisture have caused pieces of tile and glass to become loose on the towers, which are conserved for reattachment in the ongoing restoration work. The structures suffered little from the 1994 Northridge earthquake in the region, with only a few pieces shaken loose.

The structures have not been compromised by vandalism and are granted respect by the local and surrounding communities.

Watts Towers Arts Center

The Watts Towers Arts Center is an adjacent community arts center. The current facility opened in 1970. Prior to that, the Center operated under a canopy next to the Towers. The center was built and staffed by the non-profit Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts. Changing displays of contemporary artworks are on exhibit, and tours of the Watts Towers are conducted by the center. The Center's Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center holds art classes, primarily for youth and Special Needs adults from the local community and surrounding cities. Partnerships with CalArts and Sony Pictures provide media arts and piano classes. The Day of the Drum and Jazz Festival occurs annually on last weekend of every September. It includes arts and craft booths and live music.

Guided tours

The only way to enter the gates of the Watts Towers is with a guided tour. Guides explain the history and context of the towers. As of June 2017 general admission is $7.00, seniors $3.00 and children under 12 years of age are free. [24] Tours run Thursday through Saturday 10:30 am to 3:00 pm and Sundays 12:30 pm to 3:00 pm. There are no guided tours on Monday through Wednesday.

Media

Literature

Jazz musician Charles Mingus mentioned Rodia's Towers in his 1971 autobiography Beneath the Underdog , writing about his childhood fascination with Rodia and his work. There is also a reference to the work in Don DeLillo's novel Underworld . [10]

California-based poet Robert Duncan featured Rodia's Towers in his 1959 poem, "Nel Mezzo del Cammin di Nostra Vita," as an example of democratic art that is free of church/state power structures. [25]

In his book White Sands Geoff Dyer writes about his visit to the Watts Towers in the chapter 'The Ballad of Jimmy Garrison'.

Film

  • The 1957 short documentary film The Towers , by William Hale, includes voice recordings of Rodia and footage of the artist at work. The film incorrectly refers to the artist as "Simon Rodilla".
  • In the 1967 movie Good Times , Sonny & Cher danced around in one of the towers.
  • In the 1972 movie Melinda the title character is taken to see the towers.
  • The climax of the 1976 blaxploitation movie Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde takes place at the towers.
  • The climax of the 1977 blaxploitation movie Abar, the First Black Superman takes place at the towers.
  • The 1988 movie Colors ends with Sean Penn near the towers.
  • The 1991 movie Ricochet , starring Denzel Washington, climaxes with Denzel's character swinging on the towers.
  • The 1993 movie CB4 shows Chris Elliot recording a piece for his character's documentary in front of the towers.
  • The 1993 movie Menace II Society shows the towers at the beginning of the 1993 introduction.
  • The 2006 documentary I Build the Tower focuses on Sabato "Simon" Rodia, and his creative vision and skill in building the Towers. The 1987 docudrama Daniel and The Towers is about them also. The Towers of Simon Rodia is a 2008 documentary filmed in digital 3-D.
  • The 2016 movie La La Land shows the film's main characters visiting the towers in a montage sequence.

Television

Watts Towers were highlighted in the 1973 BBC television series The Ascent of Man , written and presented by Jacob Bronowski, in the episode "The Grain in the Stone — tools, and the development of architecture and sculpture".

  • The towers were also depicted on The Simpsons episode " Angry Dad: The Movie ". [11]
  • The towers are referenced in Dragnet season 2 episode 4.
  • The towers appear and are discussed by student artists Claire Fisher and Russel Corwin in "Nobody Sleeps", the Season 3 Episode 4 of Six Feet Under .
  • The towers appear and are discussed in 2017 Season 1, Episode 1 of the Amazon Originals production of "Long Strange Trip"

Radio

Video games

  • The 2004 game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas features the Jefferson Towers (also named as Sculpture Park) in the city of Los Santos, based on the Watts Towers.
  • The 2005 street racing game LA Rush features the Watts Towers.
  • The 2008 street racing game Midnight Club: Los Angeles features the Watts Towers.
  • The 2013 game Grand Theft Auto: V similarly features the Watts Towers, but in this version named as Rancho Towers.
  • The 2014 game Wasteland 2 features the Watts Towers as part of the town of Rodia.

See also

Local landmarks

Regional and international landmarks

United States
International