Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
Simon Rodia State Historic Park
Watts Towers
Watts Towers is located in Southern Los Angeles
Watts Towers
Watts Towers is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Watts Towers
Watts Towers is located in California
Watts Towers
Watts Towers is located in the United States
Watts Towers
Location1765 E. 107th Street, Los Angeles, California 90002
Coordinates33°56′19.46″N 118°14′27.77″W / 33.9387389°N 118.2410472°W / 33.9387389; -118.2410472
Built1921–1954
ArchitectSabato Rodia
NRHP reference No.77000297
CHISL No.993
LAHCM No.15
Significant dates
Added to NRHPApril 13, 1977[3]
Designated NHLDecember 14, 1990[4]
Designated CHISLAugust 17, 1990[1]
Designated LAHCMMarch 1, 1963[2]

The Watts Towers, Towers of Simon Rodia, or Nuestro Pueblo[5] ("our town" in Spanish) are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural towers, architectural structures, and individual sculptural features and mosaics within the site of the artist's original residential property in Watts, Los Angeles, California, United States. The entire site of towers, structures, sculptures, pavement and walls were designed and built solely by Sabato ("Simon" or "Sam") Rodia (1879 or 1886 to 1965),[6] an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, over a period of 33 years from 1921 to 1954. The tallest of the towers is 99.5 feet (30.3 m).[7] The work is an example of outsider art (or Art Brut)[8] and Italian-American naïve art.[4][9]

The Watts Towers 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 one of nine folk art sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places in Los Angeles. The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park encompasses the Watts Towers site.

Simon Rodia

Sabato ("Simon" or "Sam") Rodia (February 12, 1879 (?) – July 17, 1965) was born and raised in Serino, Italy.[10][11] In 1895, aged fifteen, he emigrated to the United States with his brother.[12] Rodia lived in Pennsylvania until his brother died in a mining incident. He then moved to Seattle, Washington, where he married Lucia Ucci in 1902. They soon moved to Oakland, where Rodia's three children were born. Following his divorce around 1909, he moved to Long Beach and worked in construction and other odd jobs before finally settling in Watts in 1920.[13] Among the projects he is known, or claimed, to have worked on are the UC Berkeley campus,[14] the Eastern Star Home[15] and the Bullocks Wilshire building.[16] Rodia began constructing the Watts Towers in 1921.

There has been some question as to what Rodia was called during his lifetime; some sources have cited that his birth name was "Sabatino" and it is disputed as to whether he was called "Simon" during his lifetime. It is widely known and accepted that he was referred to as "Sam" by close friends. He appears as Samuel Rodia (and still living in Oakland) in the 1910 U.S. Census, but by the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, he had already become Sam Rodia. His surname has also been misspelled as "Rodella" or "Rodilla".[17]

He appears on the iconic cover of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club album by The Beatles (top right corner, to the left of and behind Bob Dylan).

Design and construction

The sculptures' armatures are constructed from steel rebar and Rodia's 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, seashells, figurines, mirrors, and other items. Rodia called the Towers "Nuestro Pueblo" ("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 Malibu Potteries and CALCO (California Clay Products Company). Green glass includes recognizable soft drink bottles from the 1930s through the 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.[18] Their structural design and placement near the builder's home are strongly reminiscent of the gigli ("lillies") towers which feature in an annual festival to St. Paulinus in Nola, Italy, with which he was probably familiar.[19][20]

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 the summer of 1954, Rodia suffered a mild stroke. Shortly after the stroke, he fell off a tower from a low height. In 1955, Rodia gave 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 also mentioned that the towers were frequently vandalized by neighbors.[13][21] He moved to Martinez, California, to be with his sister. He remained there for the next eleven years until his death in 1965.[22]

Preservation after Rodia

Rodia's bungalow inside the enclosure burned down as a result of an accident on the Fourth of July 1956,[23] and the City of Los Angeles condemned the structure and ordered it all to be destroyed. Actor Nicholas King and film editor William Cartwright visited the site in 1959, and purchased the property from Rodia's 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 their demolition.[18]

Tests conducted October 10, 1959, found that the towers were capable of withstanding lateral forces of up to 10,000 pounds.[24]

Conservation and damage

The Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers preserved the site independently until 1975 when, for the purpose of guardianship, they partnered with the City of Los Angeles and then with the State of California in 1978. The Towers are 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 originally established in the house structure.

In February 2011, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art 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.[25] Weather and moisture 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. An extensive restoration project by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art began in 2017.[26] The site re-opened in November 2022 when the work was finished.[27]

California Historic Landmark marker

California Historic Landmark Marker on the site reads:[28]

NO. 993 WATTS TOWERS OF SIMON RODIA – The Watts Towers are perhaps the nation's best known work of folk art sculpture. Using simple hand tools, cast off materials (glass, shell, pottery pieces and broken tile) Italian immigrant Simon Rodia spent 30 years building a tribute to his adopted country and a monument to the spirit of individuals who make their dreams tangible. Rodia's Towers inspired many to rally and preserve his work and protect it for the future.

Doorway detail
Wall detail, with mosaic

Special exhibits

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art mounted a 1962 photographic exhibition, Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts: A Photographic Exhibition, which was the first museum exhibition on the art or Simon Rodia and the towers.[29]

Two artist interviews, "Watts Towers Q&A with Dominique Moody" and "Q&A With Artist Alison Saar About Her Connection to Watts Towers," were produced in 2012 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of its Exhibitions on View series.

In popular culture

This section may contain irrelevant references to popular culture. Please remove the content or add citations to reliable and independent sources. (February 2023)

The Simon Rodia Continuation High School in Watts is named for Simon Rodia.

Literature

Jazz musician Charles Mingus mentioned Rodia's Towers in his 1971 autobiography Beneath the Underdog, writing about his childhood fascination with Rodia and his work. There is also a reference to the work in Don DeLillo's novel Underworld.[30]

California-based poet Robert Duncan featured Rodia's Towers in his 1959 poem, "Nel Mezzo del Cammin di Nostra Vita," as an example of democratic art that is free of church/state power structures.[31]

In her 1974 book, Eve's Hollywood, Eve Babitz describes a visit to the towers.

In his book White Sands Geoff Dyer writes about his visit to the Watts Towers in the chapter "The Ballad of Jimmy Garrison".

The short story With Virgil Oddum At The East Pole by an American science fiction writer Harlan Ellison is directly inspired by the Watts Towers and dedicated to the memory of Sabotini Rodia. The story placed first in the 1986 Locus Award for Best Short Story.[32]

Film

Television

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

Music

Radio

Video games

An explanation of how the Watts Towers are maintained

Watts Towers Arts Center

The Watts Towers Arts Center is an adjacent community arts center. The current facility opened in 1970. Before that, the Center operated under a canopy next to the Towers.[38] 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 the last weekend of every September. It includes arts and craft booths and live music.

Watts Towers Crescent Greenway

Watts Towers Crescent Greenway is a 0.2 mile rail with trail bike–pedestrian path next to the Towers.[39] It is the shortest open rail-trail in the U.S.[40]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "Watts Towers". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved July 27, 2013.
  2. ^ Department of City Planning. "Designated Historic-Cultural Monuments". City of Los Angeles. Archived from the original on June 9, 2010. Retrieved June 15, 2010.
  3. ^ "National Register Information System – Watts Towers of Simon Rodia (#77000297)". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c "Watts Towers". National Historic Landmark Quicklinks. National Park Service. Archived from the original on April 1, 2012. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  5. ^ Zabrodski, Sarah. "An Object Called Art". The Iris Art Stories. J. Paul Getty Trust. Retrieved February 5, 2024.
  6. ^ "Record Transcription Social Security Death Index". Find My Past. Archived from the original on November 21, 2023. Retrieved April 15, 2022.
  7. ^ Whiteson, Leon (1989). The Watts Towers of Los Angeles. London: Mosaic Press. ISBN 0-88962-394-5.
  8. ^ Shatkin, Elina. "Watts Towers: The Story of an LA Icon". Discover Los Angeles. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  9. ^ Goldstone, Arloa Paquin (June 18, 1990). "The Towers of Simon Rodia". National Register of Historic Places Registration. National Park Service. Archived from the original on February 13, 2023. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  10. ^ About Sam Rodia Archived January 27, 2022, at the Wayback Machine - The Watts Towers — official site
  11. ^ The Social Security Death Index uses 15 April 1886. Other reference works use 1873, 1875, and 1879.
  12. ^ US Census 25 April 1910, Oakland, California, supervisors District 3, enumerators district 21, sheet 16
  13. ^ a b Big Orange Landmarks Archived March 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine -- No. 15 - Towers of Simon Rodia.
  14. ^ King, Nicholas (2014). "Interview with S. Rodia, by Nicholas King, Martinez, California, September 1960". In Del Giudice, Andrea (ed.). Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development. Fordham University Press. p. 415.
  15. ^ Segre, Claudio (2014). "Letter to the CSTRW re: Visit in Martinez, California, January 25, 1962". In Del Giudice, Andrea (ed.). Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development. Fordham University Press. p. 380.
  16. ^ Landler, Edward and Brad Byer (2006). "I Build the Tower". Los Angeles: Bench Movies.
  17. ^ Smith, Richard Cándida (2000). "Rodia, Simon (1879-1965), artist". American National Biography. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1701372. ISBN 978-0-19-860669-7. Archived from the original on January 27, 2022. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  18. ^ a b "PCAD - Watts Towers, Watts, Los Angeles, CA". pcad.lib.washington.edu. Archived from the original on June 24, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  19. ^ Ceparano, Felice (June 15, 2014). "The Gigli of Nola during Rodia's Times". In Del Giudice, Luisa (ed.). Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development. Fordham University Press.
  20. ^ Lyons, Carolyn (August 25, 2011). "Watts Towers: LA's weird masterpiece". The Guardian. Retrieved January 17, 2024.
  21. ^ "From the Archives: Simon Rodia, 90, Builder of Famed Watts Towers, Dies in Martinez". Los Angeles Times (Originally published in 1965 in printed newspaper form only. This digitized copy was created at an unspecified but much later date by the original publisher (the Los Angeles Times).). July 19, 1965. Archived from the original on November 9, 2020. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  22. ^ Reynolds, Christopher (December 24, 2021). "Watts Towers at 100: Junk turned into art still casts a spell". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 25, 2022. Retrieved June 18, 2023.
  23. ^ de Arend, Lucien. "The History of the Watts Towers". Watts Towers by Sam Rodia. Cultural Affairs Dept. Watts Center. Archived from the original on February 11, 2021. Retrieved June 13, 2017.
  24. ^ a b Goldstone, Bud; Goldstone, Arloa Paquin (1997). The Los Angeles Watts Towers. Getty Conservation Institute. ISBN 978-0892364916.
  25. ^ Boehm, Mike (February 11, 2011). "LACMA gets $500,000 grant to fund its new role as Watts Towers conservator". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 12, 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2011.
  26. ^ Nguyen, Arthur (July 14, 2016). "Conservation Proceeds at Watts Towers". LACMA. Un Framed. Archived from the original on September 22, 2018. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  27. ^ Niland, Josh (December 6, 2022). "Finally complete, the Watts Towers' restoration is a turning point for public art in Los Angeles". Archinect. Archived from the original on June 18, 2023. Retrieved June 17, 2023.
  28. ^ "californiahistoricallandmarks.com 993, Watts Towers". Archived from the original on August 29, 2019. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  29. ^ "Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts: A Photographic Exhibition by Seymour Rosen". Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Archived from the original on May 16, 2021. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  30. ^ Duvall, John N. (May 29, 2008). The Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139828086. Archived from the original on November 21, 2023. Retrieved August 12, 2018 – via Google Books.
  31. ^ Fredman, Stephen (August 12, 2018). Contextual Practice: Assemblage and the Erotic in Postwar Poetry and Art. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804763585. Archived from the original on November 21, 2023. Retrieved August 12, 2018 – via Google Books.
  32. ^ "ISFDB". The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Archived from the original on April 17, 2023. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  33. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ Ng, David (February 21, 2011). "The Simpsons' pays tribute to Watts Towers". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 5, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
  36. ^ "Watts Tour – Visiting (109) – Huell Howser Archives at Chapman University". November 8, 2017. Archived from the original on May 4, 2021. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  37. ^ "Episode 3 Series 11". The Museum of Curiosity. BBC Radio 4. Archived from the original on August 11, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  38. ^ Wattstowers.us: The Watts Towers Arts Center Archived December 24, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, and Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center.
  39. ^ Margolies, Jane (August 15, 2003). "JOURNEYS; Cape Cod by Bike, A Family Trip". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on January 30, 2023. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
  40. ^ Railroads, United States Congress House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on (1997). Implementation of the Rails to Trails Act: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Railroads of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, Second Session, July 10 and September 18, 1996. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-16-054208-4. Archived from the original on November 21, 2023. Retrieved February 26, 2023.