Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
Watts Towers, 1765 East 107th St., Los Angeles
|Location||10618–10626 Graham Avenue, and 1711–1765 E. 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA|
|NRHP Reference #||77000297|
|Added to NRHP||April 13, 1977|
|Designated NHL||December 14, 1990|
|Designated CHISL||August 17, 1990|
|Designated LAHCM||March 1, 1963|
|Part of a series on the|
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.
The Watts Towers are located near (and visible from) the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn (now 103rd St./Watts Towers) Station of the Metro Rail LACMTA Blue Line. They were designated both a National Historic Landmark and a California Historical Landmark in 1990.
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 during World War II or contained buried treasure caused suspicion and further vandalism.
In 1955, Rodia gave away his property and left, reportedly tired of the abuse he received. He retired to Martinez, California and never returned. He died ten years later.
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. 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.
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. The towers were also designated a California Historical Landmark in 1990.
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 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.
Documentaries about 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.
People and places
- Antoni Gaudí, a Catalan architect with a similar style, particularly La Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
- Baldasare Forestiere, another Italian immigrant in California born the same year as Rodia who built the Forestiere Underground Gardens.
- Hermit House, a unique residence located in Herzliya, Israel, with intricate mosaics entirely constructed by one man over thirty years.
- Bishop Castle, a massive stone castle hand built by Jim Bishop near Rye, Colorado.
- Mystery Castle, a house in Phoenix, Arizona, built in the 1930s in a similar style.
- Nitt Witt Ridge, a house in Cambria, California, constructed in a similar style.
- Rubel Castle, a house in Glendora, California, constructed in a similar style.
- Ferdinand Cheval, a French postman who constructed an "ideal palace" out of rocks in his spare time.
- Rock Garden, Chandigarh, a rock garden built completely out of thrown-away items. The project was secretly initiated by Nek Chand.
- Justo Gallego Martínez, a Spaniard who built his own cathedral.
- Edward James, surrealist poet inspired by Rodia. James built Las Pozas in Mexico.
- Valerio Ricetti, an Italian immigrant in Australia who built the Hermit's Cave.
- Wharton Esherick, an American sculptor who built the Wharton Esherick Studio.
- Coral Castle, a stone artwork and residence built in Homestead, Florida.
- Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, an art space occupying three city lots, was created over the span of fourteen years by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar.
- The Heidelberg Project, a street in Detroit where houses have been turned into an outdoor art environment.
- Broken Angel House, a house in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn designed with similar ad hoc construction over 30+ years.
- List of Registered Historic Places in Los Angeles.
- California Historical Landmarks in Los Angeles County, California
- List of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments in South Los Angeles.
- "Watts Towers". Office of Historical Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2013-07-27.
- Department of City Planning. "Designated Historic-Cultural Monuments". City of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Watts Towers". National Historic Landmark Quicklinks. National Park Service. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
- Goldstone, Arloa Paquin (1990-06-18). "The Towers of Simon Rodia". National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service.
- Goldstone, Bud & Arloa (1997). The Los Angeles Watts Towers. Los Angeles CA: Getty Trust.
- Boehm, Mike (2011-02-11). "LACMA gets $500,000 grant to fund its new role as Watts Towers conservator". Los Angeles Times.
- "The Towers of Simon Rodia, Accompanying 8 photos, from 1967–1989.". National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service. 1990-06-18.
- Goldstone, Bud; Arloa Paquin Goldstone (1997). The Los Angeles Watts Towers. J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Watts Towers.|
- The Towers of Simon Rodia, a documentary filmed in digital 3-D, released in 2008. Available on a DVD with a second documentary short Watts Towers - Then & Now, available in both 2-D and 3-D at LACMA gift store.
- I Build the Tower, a feature-length documentary film about Simon Rodia and the Watts Towers
- The official website dedicated entirely to Simon Rodia's Watts Towers and their impact on international art
- Wattstowers.org at the Wayback Machine
- KCET Life & Times. History of the Towers
- Official State Park Website
- Spherical panoramas of Rodia's work
- Most Everything That Ever Mentioned, Showed, Documented or Featured the Watts Towers
- The Towers, A 1957 documentary
- Rodia's Watts Towers Photodocumentary with ruins of Rodia's house, plus surprising new biographical information
- Library of Congress: America's Memory
- The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia A feature on Unusual Travel Destinations
- Watts Towers on Great Buildings www.greatbuildings.com