The Watts TowersSabato (Simon) Rodia (1875 - 1965)

Status

Extant

Original Location

Los Angeles, California

Address

1765 E 107th St, Los Angeles, California, 90002, United States

Built

1921 to 1954

Visiting Information

The Watts Towers may be viewed from the street; tours are offered by the WTAC on Saturdays.

About the Artist/Site

Sabato Rodia was born 1879 in Ribottoli, in the Avellino province of Campania, Italy. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager.  After working as a laborer in various cities, he settled in the early 1920s in Watts, California, a town later annexed to the City of Los Angeles.  There, on a 400 square-meter triangular lot alongside railway tracks, Rodia worked alone for the next 34 years, building what are now known as the “Watts Towers.”

To create the towers’ infrastructure, Rodia used steel beams, bending them by wedging the ends under the tracks, and then applying weight by leaning on them. The structures he assembled became ladders he could climb to add new levels. Using no bolts, welds, or rivets, he overlapped or abutted metal joints instead, wrapping them with wire and cement. To this surface he added colorful shards of pottery, glass, seashells, and tile.

By 1954, when Rodia deeded the property to a neighbor—never to return—his complex environment included seventeen discrete sculptures, along with fountains, gardens, and plazas. 

The property had several subsequent owners. In 1957, the City of Los Angeles, citing a lack of engineering plans and the deterioration of certain components, condemned the towers as an “unauthorized public hazard” and called for demolition. In protest, artists and activists formed the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts (CSRTW). They demanded the City allow a stress test to determine the towers’ stability. Following the successful test, designed by N.J. (“Bud”) Goldstone, in October 1959, and some minor repairs, the towers were opened to the public in 1960.

Sabato Rodia died in Martinez, California in 1965. That same year, an uprising in Watts resulted in the destruction of several blocks near the towers, but Rodia’s creation was unharmed. To support the local community, the CSRTW began offering free art classes on site, and in 1970, the Watts Towers Art Center opened next door.

Over the years, ownership of the towers has passed from the CSRTW to the City, and then to the State of California, which leased the property back to the City for maintenance and stewardship. The towers were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Nevertheless, poor conservation over many years has restricted public accessibility and has compounded damage caused by natural forces.

~Jo Farb Hernández

Sources for this entry include Bill Billiter’s April 1979 article in ArtNews; CSRTW’s 1976 The Towers of Simon Rodia in Watts; N.J. (Bud) Goldstone and Arloa Paquin Goldstone’s 1997 The Los Angeles Watts Towers; Calvin Trillin’s 1965 article in The New Yorker; and Daniel Franklin Ward’s 1986 Simon Rodia and His Towers in Watts

 

 

Update, May 2020: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in partnership with the City of Los Angeles's Department of Cultural Affairs, has been working on conserving the Watts Towers for several years. The project was slated to be completed fall 2020; however, work has slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Towers are currently shrouded and scaffolded and will remain so until the conservation project is finished. For more information, click here

Materials

concrete, bottles, cups, glass, tile, shells, steel

SPACES Archives Holdings

Collection Size: Approximately 17 linear feet

Archives include clippings, correspondence, reports, and photographic prints, slides and negatives by Seymour Rosen. It also includes business records, correspondence, promotional and internal documents of the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts, a 501(c) (3) organization whose mission was to advocate for the Towers, and ephemera from the Watts Towers Art Center.

Watts Towers Finding Aid (pdf)

Watts Towers Digital Archives

Media

The Towers by Billy Hale

A film about Simon Rodia and Watts Towers, 1957. Directed by William Hale. Produced by Rembrandt Films, William Hale and Antonio M. Vallano. Remastered 2010 by Over the Moon Productions.

Map & Site Information

1765 E 107th St
Los Angeles, California, 90002 us
Latitude/Longitude: 33.9386418 / -118.2413101

Nearby Environments

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