Visiting Watts Tower

The irony of living somewhere is that the tourists go out of their way to see the cultural landmarks and most residents don’t ever make the time.  So being a native, I’ve never taken the time to go see Watts Towers.  It likely does not help that the first thing most people think of in LA when you say Watts is not “giant folk art monument”.  I took the opportunity this month of being near a metro rail stop of taking the easy trip down.  It may not be the most common thing to be taking the subway in LA yet, but at least it was featured a good bit in Her.

Ha, like anyone follows this rule.

Ha, like anyone follows this rule.

The towers are a labor of love completely made by Simon Rodia during and in-between the two world wars over 33 years.  The man built 10 story towers without any scaffolding or help and only stopped because he fell off one day.  He went through two marriages and some serious alcoholism before devoting his life to this one task.

Ten stories of handmade cement, metal bars, and found items.

Ten stories of handmade cement, metal bars, and found items.

He was inspired by the spires and domes of the churches, festivals, and buildings of his youth in Italy. The whole thing looks like a boat if you see it from a certain angle, the tall towers forming its mast.

How the heck did he pour the cement like this?

How the heck did he pour the cement like this?  You can see how much detail work he put into each bit.

He was recycling (or upcycling?) with found items way before it was a thing.

He was recycling (or upcycling?) with found items way before it was a thing.  He found things along rail tracks, beaches, or just wherever he walked.  People also donated extra plates and he brought home things from his tile laying job.

He was inspired by the great thinking men of the past but couldn’t even read himself.  It’s quite impressive what he did with just the drive to make something for so long.

He really seems to like hearts.

He really seems to like hearts.

Seriously, what's with all the hearts?  He used fencing and pipe spigots to create designs in the ground and walls.  He must have done it pretty fast if he got this many designs in.

Seriously, what’s with all the hearts? He used fencing and pipe spigots to create designs in the ground and walls. He must have done it pretty fast if he got this many designs in.

Simon Rodia signed his name with the tools he used to build the towers.  He only used these tools and his hands to accomplish everything.

Simon Rodia signed his name with the tools he used to build the towers. He only used these tools and his hands to accomplish everything.

It was named "Nuestro Pueblo", or our town in Spanish.  He invited the neighborhood to use it as a church and location for celebrations like quinceaneras.

It was named “Nuestro Pueblo”, or our town in Spanish. He invited the neighborhood to use it as a church and location for celebrations like quinceaneras.

While the metro light rail runs pretty close to this area now, the red cars used to run right by it.  Rodia wanted to make something that made the people riding to the far edges of Los Angeles (this is pretty far out) wonder what in the world this structure could be.

The whole thing.  I can't believe that's ten stories.

The whole thing. I can’t believe that’s ten stories.

They give tours a few weekdays and during the weekend.  I managed to catch an accidental private tour with the friendly docent.  LACMA also has people there restoring this sort of hidden treasure.  They have two galleries and a video made while Rodia was still alive playing.  There’s also a jazz festival that occurs there in the fall, supposedly the biggest in all of Los Angeles.  How did I manage to run all over the world and miss this awesome spot in my own backyard?  Sometimes it just takes that extra effort, or a visitor or two, to see your own home in a new light.

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1 comment
  1. Wow – so cool. Wish I’d gone when I was in LA.

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