Watts Towers

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Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
Watts Towers, 1765 East 107th St., Los Angeles
Watts Towers is located in Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Location:10618–10626 Graham Avenue, and 1711–1765 E. 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA
Coordinates:33°56′19.46″N 118°14′27.77″W / 33.9387389°N 118.2410472°W / 33.9387389; -118.2410472Coordinates: 33°56′19.46″N 118°14′27.77″W / 33.9387389°N 118.2410472°W / 33.9387389; -118.2410472
Built:1921–1954
Architect:Simon Rodia
Governing body:Local
NRHP Reference#:77000297
CHISL #:993
LAHCM #:15
Significant dates
Added to NRHP:April 13, 1977[2]
Designated NHL:December 14, 1990[3]
Designated LAHCM:March 1, 1963[1]
 
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Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
Watts Towers, 1765 East 107th St., Los Angeles
Watts Towers is located in Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Location:10618–10626 Graham Avenue, and 1711–1765 E. 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA
Coordinates:33°56′19.46″N 118°14′27.77″W / 33.9387389°N 118.2410472°W / 33.9387389; -118.2410472Coordinates: 33°56′19.46″N 118°14′27.77″W / 33.9387389°N 118.2410472°W / 33.9387389; -118.2410472
Built:1921–1954
Architect:Simon Rodia
Governing body:Local
NRHP Reference#:77000297
CHISL #:993
LAHCM #:15
Significant dates
Added to NRHP:April 13, 1977[2]
Designated NHL:December 14, 1990[3]
Designated LAHCM:March 1, 1963[1]

The Watts Towers or Towers of Simon Rodia in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California, is a collection of 17 interconnected structures, two of which reach heights of over 99 feet (30 m). The Towers were built by Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato ("Sam" or "Simon") Rodia in his spare time over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. The work is an example of non-traditional vernacular architecture and American Naïve art.[3][4]

The Watts Towers are located near (and visible from) the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn Station of the Metro Rail LACMTA Blue Line. They were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.[3]

Contents

Design and construction

The sculptures' armatures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh and coated with mortar. The main supports are embedded with pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass. They are decorated with found objects, including bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal and sea shells. Rodia called the towers Nuestro Pueblo (which means "our town" in Spanish). He built them with no special equipment or predetermined design, working alone with hand tools and window-washer's equipment. Neighborhood children brought pieces of broken glass and pottery to Rodia, some of which were added, but the majority of his material consisted of damaged pieces from the Malibu Pottery or CALCO (California Clay Products Company), located nearby. 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).

Rodia reportedly did not get along with his neighbors, some of whom allowed their children to vandalize his work. Rumors that the towers were antennae for communicating with enemy Japanese forces or contained buried treasure caused suspicion and further vandalism.

In 1955, Rodia gave the property away and left, reportedly tired of the abuse he had received. He retired to Martinez, California and never came back. He died a decade later.

After Rodia

The property changed hands, Rodia's bungalow inside the enclosure was burned down, and the city of Los Angeles condemned the structure and ordered it razed. Actor Nicholas King and a film editor William Cartwright visited the site in 1959, saw the neglect, and purchased the property for $3,000 in order to preserve it. When the city found out about the transfer, it decided to perform the demolition before the transfer went through. The towers had already become famous and there was opposition from around the world. King, Cartwright, and museum curator Jim Elliott of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, along with area architects, artists, 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.

The test took place on October 10, 1959.[5] For the test, steel cable was attached to each tower and a crane was used to exert lateral force. 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 committee preserved the towers independently until 1975, when it deeded the site to the City of Los Angeles, which in turn deeded it to the State of California in 1978. It is now designated the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park. It is operated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department in partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In February 2011, LACMA announced that it had received a $500,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation to conserve and promote the Watts Towers.[6]

The towers are one of nine folk art sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.[3][4][7]


Doorway detail featuring broken bottles, pottery shards, tile fragments, and seashells. Note flower-like imprints in mortar (lower right) made with a faucet handle. "1765" and "SR" are repeatedly seen, referring to the street number and to Simon Rodia, the builder.
Closeup view of the mosaic decoration

Damage

The structures suffered minor damage in the Northridge earthquake in 1994, after which they were repaired and reopened in 2001. The towers were damaged during a 2000 windstorm and were closed to the public briefly until March 2011. There is also damage from random acts of vandalism.

Watts Towers Arts Center

The Watts Towers Arts Center is an adjacent community arts center that was opened in 1970. The center was built and staffed by the non-profit Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts. The two tallest towers are 97 and 99 feet tall.

Popular culture

The towers are subject of scenes in the movie Colors, in one scene a car is crashed into one of the towers.

Watts Towers were highlighted in the 1973 television series, The Ascent of Man and shown in the episode, "The Grain in the Stone – Tools, and the development of architecture and sculpture". The towers were described by the presenter as "my favorite monument – built by a man who had no more scientific equipment than the Gothic mason". The series was written and presented by Jacob Bronowski and produced by BBC.

They are featured in the 1991 movie Ricochet. Denzel Washington and John Lithgow's final battle occurs on and around the towers.

The Syfy competitive reality show Face Off visited the towers during the eighth episode of its second season. The challenge was to use the structures as inspiration in creating a Tim Burton-esque movie character.

In The Simpsons episode "Angry Dad: The Movie" from Season 22 (episode 14), Marge and Homer Simpson visit the towers and in episode Lisa the Drama Queen from season 20 (episode 9), a scale model is briefly visible when Lisa and Juliet visit the folk art museum.

See also

People and places

Lists

Notes

  1. ^ Department of City Planning. "Designated Historic-Cultural Monuments". City of Los Angeles. http://www.preservation.lacity.org/monuments/. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html.
  3. ^ a b c d "Watts Towers". National Historic Landmark Quicklinks. National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1718&ResourceType=Site. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
  4. ^ a b Goldstone, Arloa Paquin (1990-06-18). "The Towers of Simon Rodia". National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Text/77000297.pdf.
  5. ^ Goldstone, Bud & Arloa (1997). The Los Angeles Watts Towers. Los Angeles CA: Getty Trust.
  6. ^ Boehm, Mike (2011-02-11). "LACMA gets $500,000 grant to fund its new role as Watts Towers conservator". Los Angeles Times. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/02/watts-towers-lacma-preservation.html.
  7. ^ "The Towers of Simon Rodia, Accompanying 8 photos, from 1967–1989.". National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service. 1990-06-18. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Photos/77000297.pdf.

References


External links