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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.