Watts Towers

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Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
Simon Rodia State Historic Park
Watts-towers.jpg
Watts Towers
Watts Towers is located in Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Watts Towers
Location 1727 E. 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90002
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[3]
Designated NHL December 14, 1990[4]
Designated CHISL August 17, 1990[1]
Designated LAHCM March 1, 1963[2]

The Watts Towers, Towers of Simon Rodia, or Nuestro Pueblo ("our town"), are within the Simon Rodia State Historic Park, in the Watts community of Los Angeles, Southern California. They are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural structures, the tallest reaching a height of over 99 feet (30 m). The towers and walls were designed and built by Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason Sabato ("Simon") Rodia (1879-1965), over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. The work is an example of 'outsider art' vernacular architecture and Italian-American naïve art.[4][5]

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.[4][1] They are also a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and on the National Register of Historic Places in Los Angeles.

Design and construction[edit]

The sculptures' armatures are constructed from steel rebar and his 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, sea shells, figurines, mirrors, and much, much more. 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. 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[edit]

Rodia's bungalow inside the enclosure was burned down, as a result of a 4th of July mishap 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.[6] 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.

Doorway detail.
Wall detail, with mosaic.
An explanation of how the Watts Towers survive

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 or "Nuestro Pueblo" are considered one of Southern California's most culturally significant public artworks. [8][9] 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.[4][5][10] The towers were also designated a California Historical Landmark in 1990.[1]

Conservation and damage[edit]

The withstanding of weather and moisture for over half a century 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.

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

Watts Towers Arts Center[edit]

The Watts Towers Arts Center is an adjacent community arts center that opened in 1970. [11] 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.

Media[edit]

Documentaries

A short documentary film by William Hale, called The Towers (1957), includes voice recordings of Rodia, and footage of the artist at work.[6]

The 2006 documentary I Build the Tower is the most comprehensive and insightful documentary film about 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.[12]

Television

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

Movies

The movie "Ricochet (film)" starring Denzel Washington climaxes with Denzel's character swinging on the towers.

Video Games

The 2004 Rockstar North critically acclaimed and record breaking game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, features the Watts Towers in its open-world creation of Los Santos(Los Angeles) and gameplay.

The 2013 release of Grand Theft Auto: V, a hugely anticipated and unprecedented record breaking game made by Rockstar North, revealed a world similar to their privious Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and also features the Watts Towers.

See also[edit]

Local landmarks[edit]

Regional and international landmarks[edit]

United States
International

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Watts Towers". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2013-07-27. 
  2. ^ Department of City Planning. "Designated Historic-Cultural Monuments". City of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  3. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Watts Towers". National Historic Landmark Quicklinks. National Park Service. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Goldstone, Arloa Paquin (1990-06-18). "The Towers of Simon Rodia". National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service. 
  6. ^ a b Goldstone, Bud; Goldstone, Arloa Paquin (1997). The Los Angeles Watts Towers. Getty Conservation Institute. ISBN 978-0892364916. 
  7. ^ Boehm, Mike (2011-02-11). "LACMA gets $500,000 grant to fund its new role as Watts Towers conservator". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ Watts Towers
  9. ^ Public Art in Public Places Project
  10. ^ "The Towers of Simon Rodia, Accompanying 8 photos, from 1967–1989.". National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service. 1990-06-18. 
  11. ^ Wattstowers.us: The Watts Towers Arts Center, and Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center.
  12. ^ The Towers of Simon Rodia (2008), with the documentary short Watts Towers – Then & Now — available on a DVD (2-D or 3-D) from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art bookshop.

External links[edit]