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The Watts Towers

Watts Towers - Simon Rodia

photo © Thomas Harrison

THE WATTS TOWERS OF SABATO RODIA
A BEACON OF LIGHT

The Watts Towers by Simon Rodia (Serino, Avellino, 1879–Martinez, California 1965), located in Watts, in South Central Los Angeles, are the world’s largest single construction created by one individual. Their structure consists of 17 major sculptures of steel, covered with mortar and embellished by decorative finishings of mosaic tiles, glass, clay, shells, and rock. As there is no welded inner armature, Rodia wired rebars together, then wrapped the joints with wire mesh, hand packed them with mortar, and added the mosaic surface. This folk art employs assemblage construction. The property extends 42 meters (138 ft.) along 107th Street on the south, 21 meters (69 ft.) on the west and 47 meters (155 ft.) on the north of this compact 400 square meter site.

When Rodia finished his towers in 1954, a 33 years long “artistic obsession,” he gave them, along with the deed to his triangular shaped land (pointing east toward Italy) to his neighbor Mr. Saucedo. Mr. Saucedo sold them to Luis Montoya for $1000 six months later. Mr. Montoya decided to convert the Watts Towers into a commercial venue. But, when he went to get a building permit the City of Los Angeles placed a demolition order on the structure because Simon did not get a permit to build his masterpiece.

Along came Bill Cartwright and Nick King who purchased the Towers from Mr. Montoya for $3000 in 1959. They founded The Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts and saved the Towers from demolition with a “stress” or “load” test, designed by Bud Goldstone. The Watts community considered the Watts Towers part of their heritage and called upon the new owners to also invest in the community. Thus the Watts Towers Arts Center began.

Today the Watts Towers is synonymous with the 50-year old Watts Towers Arts Center, its guardian and curator and at the same time a beacon of light for arts education and a conduit for social change.

Rosie Lee Hooks
Director, Watts Towers Arts Center