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Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park

All photographs taken by Kenneth A. Larson. All rights reserved. © 2006 - 2017.


Commonly refered to as Watts Towers, these unique pieces of folk art are Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park. The tour guide tells us that there are 17 separate sculptural pieces, nine major sculptures, but they are so intertwined and varied, it's hard to count them.

Simon Rodia (1879 - 1965) chose this one-tenth of an acre residential lot for two basic reasons, the adjacent Pacific Electric Railway Red Car tracks (now removed), cutting diagonally along the propery, produced a long triangular shape, remeniscent of a ship and Simon used the track rails in bending his curved steal shapes.

Simon came from Italy, worked in construction, married, became an alcoholic, divorced, cleaned up, and stated towers. Simon came to Watts after a failed marriage in the early 1920s, possibly 1921. He worked as a mason by day and after work each day, worked on "Nuestro Pueblo," his monument to the human spirit and the perseverance of a singular vision. Simom, an Italian immigrant, bagan by building a wall surrounding the property and covered it with concrete and pieces of broken tile, sea shells, and other pieces of found and cast-off objects. Simon included two mailboxes in the wall and covered the exterior walls of the house in the same fashion. Then he set about to build the towers. At the narrow end of the property, he fashioned a boat, about ten feet long, made of the same steel, concrete, and ornamentation and the rest of the site. The very point of the property was also fashioned to resemble the bow of a boat. Next, simon made two masts for his concrete, land bound, ship. The tallest of the towers is 99.5 feet high and contains the longest slender reinforced concrete column in the world. Other second tallest tower is only slightly shorter, with the remaining towers about half or less of the height of these two. The house is toward the stern of the ship with a gazebo just forward, made of the same steel, concrete, and tile construction. Flying buttresses connect the towers together and to the outer wall. Although the towers have suffered damage from many earthquakes. the damage has been mostly cracking and some dislodged decoration. When the city tried to demolish the towers after Simon's departure, the towers withstood the attempt.

The towers and other sculptures were constructed from steel pipes and rods, tied with wire and wrapped with wire mesh, and coated with mortar. He then embedded a variety of object into the mortar. These objects included whole and broken tiles, porcelain, glass, mirrors, pottery, sea shells, blue and green pieces of Milk of Magnesia and 7-Up bottles, and other materials. Simon also left impressions of tools and other objects in the wet mortar. In a fit of whimsy, there are sculptures of shoes formed into one column.

The exact date that Simon began this project is not clear, but generally believed to have been 1921 or 1923, both dates are inscribed into the Towers. He was in his early forties when he began and labored for over thirty years, finishing about 1954 or 1955. After finishing the towers, Rodia left his towers and moved to Martinez, California where he lived until his death in 1966 at the age of 86, never returning to see his towers.

After Simon's departure, there was a fire that destroyed the house, the city feared the towers would collapse and injure someone so the towers were sentenced to be destroyed, but the towers stood firm and the cable tied to a truck broke. Eventually, the towers were recognized as a unique example of folk art and the gem of Watts.

The Watts Towers are one of only nine works of folk art listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They are a National Historic Landmark, a unit of California State Parks, and managed by the Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs Department. The Watts Towers Arts Center is adjacent to the site and houses a small museum. Tours of the towers are offered, and there are events throughout the year.

Address:
1765 East 107th Street
Los Angeles, CA

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This page last updated: Saturday, 06-Jul-2013 18:48:29 EDT

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