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Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
California Historical Landmark #993
L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument #15
Watts Towers, 1765 East 107th St., Los Angeles
Watts Towers is located in California
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/Founded: 1921–1954
Architect: Simon Rodia
Governing body: Local
Added to NRHP: April 13, 1977[1]
Designated NHL: December 14, 1990[2]
Designated LAHCM: March 1, 1963[3]
NRHP Reference#: 77000297
CHL #: 993
LAHCM #: 15

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[2][4] The Towers are located near (and visible from) the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn Station of the Metro Rail LACMTA Blue Line.

The Watts Towers were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.[2] According to reviewer Robert Koehler in Variety, the documentary film I Build the Tower is "the most complete visual account of self-made architect Simon Rodia and his masterpiece."

Contents

Design and construction

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.
I had in mind to do something big and I did it.

Simon Rodia

The sculptures' armatures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh, 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, or "our town." Rodia built them with no special equipment or (so far as is known) predetermined design, working alone with hand tools and window-washer's equipment. Neighborhood children brought pieces of broken glass and pottery to Rodia in hopes they would be added to the project, but the majority of Rodia's material consisted of damaged pieces from the Malibu Pottery, where he worked for many years. Green glass includes recognizable soft drink bottles, some still bearing the logos of 7 Up, Squirt, Bubble Up, and Canada Dry; blue glass appears to be from milk of magnesia bottles.

Closeup view of the mosaic decoration

Rodia bent much of the Towers' framework from scrap rebar, using nearby railroad tracks as 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 a curator 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.

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.

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.

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.[2][5][6]

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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 2008 windstorm and were closed to the public briefly until March 2009.

Watts Towers Arts Center

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

Trivia

The towers at ground level
  • The Watts Towers, and their creator Simon Rodia's friendship with a 10-year-old boy, are a major focus of Daniel and The Towers, a 1987 made-for-television movie.
  • The plot of E.L. Konigsburg's The Outcasts of 19 Shuyler Place involves a young girl's efforts to save the three towers made from metal pipes and broken glass, china, etc. from demolition planned by the city's council which claims that the towers pose a safety hazard. The reason those towers were built was that the builders wanted to do something big, just like Rodia.
  • The Towers are mentioned in the Dragnet '69, Season 3, Episode DR-11 "Management Services." The episode discusses LA as being a center of art culture and the Towers are used as a prime example.
  • The Towers are featured in the opening scene of Wattstax, a 1973 documentary film by Mel Stuart that focused on the 1972 Wattstax music festival and the African American community of Watts in Los Angeles.
  • Ambient musical group Porn Sword Tobacco recorded a song called "Watts Towers".
  • The towers are celebrated in Episode 3 of Jacob Bronowski's TV documentary Ascent of Man.
  • The Watts Towers play a significant role in the 1991 crime-thriller film Ricochet.
  • In Solomania!: A Festival of one-man(woman) shows (2006), Roger Guenveur Smith's The Watts Towers Project relates to the audience his fascination of the Watts Towers as he attempts to discover his own personal mark as an artist.
  • Charles Mingus' autobiography, Beneath the Underdog makes reference to the towers as a part of Mingus' upbringing.[7]
  • An episode of the HBO original series Six Feet Under features the towers, (series 3, episode 4, timecode 33.17).
  • Colors features a car chase scene that ends when the Crips' car being chased crashes into one of the towers. The ending of the movie also includes a scene with which the towers are directly in the background.
  • The Towers were once used to film (or videotape) a brief location segment that appeared on the Donny & Marie variety show. In the segment, the Osmonds sang, then briefly described the Towers.
  • The 1976 blaxploitation horror film Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde climaxes with the title villain confronted by police outside the towers. The police refuse to fire on him because he is standing in front of the mosaic walls surrounding the towers. He escapes inside the structure and climbs one of the towers until he is shot down by the police. The towers were even featured prominently in the poster art for the film.
  • Robert Duncan wrote a poem entitled "Nel Mezzo Del Cammin Di Nostra Vita," published in Roots and Branches in 1964. This poem uses the Watts Towers as the focal image, discussing them as "art dedicated to itself" and as a kind of celebration of the individual, comparing the towers to the church and suggesting that they are a kind of church of the creative self.
  • One scene in Andy Warhol & Taylor Meade's 1964 film entitled "Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sort of" was shot in the towers.
  • The towers appear on the original cover of the 1975 album Brown Rice, by jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and the 1958 album Harold in the Land of Jazz by saxophonist Harold Land.
  • On the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Good Time Boys" found on the album Mother's Milk, frontman Anthony Kiedis sings "Building up our brains with the supernatural powers/We take it from the trees and the mighty Watts Towers."
  • The towers appear in the show on BET called Baldwin Hills.
  • The towers feature heavily in an episode of the short-lived science fiction series Dark Skies, with the strong suggestion being that Rodia was inspired to build them by a telepathic vision of the human DNA helix.
  • Los Angeles underground MC MURS references the towers in the song "LA" from his 2006 album Murray's Revenge : "From the Towers in Watts, to the hills of Altadena."
  • An episode of Sanford and Son called "Tower Power" involves Fred Sanford building a structure from his own junk that was obviously inspired by the Watts towers, although they are not mentioned by name.
  • The towers appear on the cover of 2001 album 2000 Watts, by R&B artist Tyrese.
  • The story "Beautiful Junk," is a fictional story about the artist of the towers and a boy. The book's author is Jon Madian and is copyrighted in 1968.
  • The towers are referenced in Don DeLillo's novel Underworld, when the character Nick Shay at one stage believes Simon Rodia to be his father.
  • The towers were in The World Almanac for Kids 2004.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas featured a re-creation of the Watts Towers, in East Los Santos, Los Santos
  • The story of the building of the towers are told in a childrens book titled "The Wonderful Towers of Watts" by Patricia Zelver with pictures by Frané Lessac.
  • The towers appear briefly in the background after a murder victim is found in the "Sally in the Alley," an episode of the 2009 NBC series Southland, later rebroadcast on the TNT network.
  • Michelle Shocked referenced the towers in her song Come A Long Way - Arkansas Traveler lp 1992
  • the towers appear on the cover of Henry Jacobs LP The Wide Weird World of Shorty Petterstein, World Pacific, 1957.

See also

People and places

Lists

References

  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. http://www.nr.nps.gov/. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Watts Towers". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-18. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1718&ResourceType=Site. 
  3. ^ Los Angeles Department of City Planning (2007-09-07), Historic - Cultural Monuments (HCM) Listing: City Declared Monuments, City of Los Angeles, http://www.cityprojectca.org/ourwork/documents/HCMDatabase090707.pdf, retrieved 2008-05-28 
  4. ^ NHL Writeup
  5. ^ ["The Towers of Simon Rodia", June 18, 1990, by Arloa Paquin Goldstone "National Register of Historic Places Registration"]. National Park Service. 1990-06-18. "The Towers of Simon Rodia", June 18, 1990, by Arloa Paquin Goldstone. 
  6. ^ [The Towers of Simon Rodia--Accompanying 8 photos, from 1967-1989. "National Register of Historic Places Registration"]. National Park Service. 1990-06-18. The Towers of Simon Rodia--Accompanying 8 photos, from 1967-1989.. 
  7. ^ Mingus: Towers

External links


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