“a landmark folk art sculpture park”
Looking at how beloved and well-preserved the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historical Park are, it's hard to believe that for years, the city of Los Angeles wanted to tear them down. The story of how they went from condemned to National Historic site is an interesting one... and it's pretty inspiring, too! The man behind the massive towers was an Italian immigrant named Sam Rodia. He worked in quarries, logging camps and on railroads all across the country. In 1921, he bought the lot of land in Los Angeles where he would build his greatest achievement. For 33 years, he worked on the 17 interconnected towers, building them by hand out of rebar, homemade concrete and mesh. He also adorned them with found objects, like glass bottles and broken pottery, which local kids brought to him. He called the scultpures "Nuestro Pueblo" (which means "our town" for those who, like me, forgot their high school Spanish) and when asked why he was building them, he simply replied, "I wanted to do something big so I did it." In 1955, Rodia finally called it quits on his masterpiece, tired of fighting with the city over codes and permits and aware that he was getting on in age. He deeded the land to a neighbor and retired to Martinez, where he died 10 years later. Of course, the story of the Watts Towers doesn't end there. Rodia's home on the property burnt down a few years after he left as the result of a 4th of July accident, and the city of LA took notice, deciding that the towers were dangerous, and condemning them to be destroyed. Luckily, in 1959, an actor named Nicholas King and a film editor named William Cartwright saw the value in the folk art structure, and bought the land from the neighbor. The duo then negotiated a deal with the city: if the towers could pass an engineering test, the city would allow them to remain. On October 10, 1959, the test was set to take place. Cables attached to cranes were used to exert lateral force on each tower to determine if they were structurally sound or not. People weren't really sure what to expect, since the towers were anchored into the ground less than 2 feet, but the outcome was still a surprise. Not only were the cranes unable to topple, or even shift the towers, with 10,000 of applied force, but the towers actually broke the crane! The way they were built has actually changed the way some buildings are constructed, and the towers are frequently cited in architecture books. The towers were privately kept up by a committee until they joined forces with their old nemeses, the city of LA, in 1975, which then teamed up with the state of California. Now, the Watts Towers even have a little cultural center attached that features more folk art as well as a history of the neighborhood. If you visit, make sure to go on the guided tour... and keep your eyes peeled for the cutout of Sam Rodia on one of the towers!" -Roadtrippers The Watts Towers are a complex set of 17 separate sculptural pieces built on a residential lot in the community of Watts. Two of the towers rise to a height of nearly 100 feet. The sculptures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh, coated with mortar, and embedded with pieces of porcelain, tile and glass. Using simple hand tools and cast off materials (broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and ceramic tile) Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia spent 30 years (1921 to 1955) building a tribute to his adopted country and a monument to the spirit of individuals who make their dreams tangible. The Watts Towers are one of only nine works of folk art listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is one of only four US National Historic Landmarks in the city of Los Angeles. The site is now a unit of California State Parks and managed by the Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs Department. The towers are subject of scenes in the movie Colors, in one scene a car is crashed into one of 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.They are featured in the 1991 movie Ricochet. Denzel Washington and John Lithgow's final battle occurs on and around the towers.
I think that the Watts Towers are one of the coolest attractions in L.A. Located right in the Watts neighborhood, the towers were built by Italian immigrant and noted eccentric Simon Rodia on his individual property out of everyday items like beer bottles or broken ceramics. Incredible photo opportunity and one of the most bizarre, yet impressive, pieces of folk art around.
If you play the game Grand Theft Auto V, these are the Jefferson Towers.
Scheduled to reopen August 2020
Currently being restored. Would come back to see it. Really cool. Admission is free under 12 and the $3-$7 after that. Access is by guided tours only Fri-Sun. Varying hours those days.
I highly recommend the Watts Towers to anyone who visits LA.
Fantastic piece of art, design and architecture!!! For someone that is not interested in these three, will surely look strange and boring..but for us..just great!!
Something different at a place that everything is so similar.! Folk art at its highest point! If someone only thinks of how this structure is made and how much effort it took to create it, you will be amazed.
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Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historical Park
- Sat: 12:30 pm - 3:00 pm
- Sun, Thu, Fri: 10:30 am - 3:00 pm
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