Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Visiting Watts Towers

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit Watts Towers – and by "had the opportunity" I mean that I MADE TIME to see them. And so should you, if you live anywhere nearby; they are a true wonder. Started by local artisan Simon Rodia in 1921 and completed more than 30 years later, they are (allegedly) the largest single piece of art completed by one person.

Looking up through one of the towers
Watts Towers is a collection of 17 interconnected structures, with two immense towers and many smaller structures. The armature is constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh and coated with mortar. Rodia covered EVERYTHING with pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass, as well as found objects including bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal and sea shells.

The towers and walls are covered with scavenged pieces of broken tiles, crockery...

...and LOTS of bottle, mostly green. Mostly 7-UP and Canada Dry, we were told.
Rodia built the towers with no special equipment or predetermined design, working alone with hand tools and window-washer's equipment.

He pressed his tools into the cement for this "signature" panel – again with his initials.
We took the tour and heard many stories – some of which may even be true, I suppose... but many of which sounded suspicious.

On weekends Rodia scavenged broken bottles and dishes, and gathered seashells at the beach.

Rodia married the loved of his life in 1902... and divorced her seven years later, never to see her or their three children again. This was decades before he began the towers.

This little area is called The Cactus Garden.

The lot that Rodia purchased upon which he would build the towers faces Italy... roughly. Yeah... VERY roughly.

Would this fall under the category of forbidden reuse?

He built the towers in his backyard. Seriously – in the backyard.

Rodia has his initials EVERYWHERE... as well as lettering such as "Nuestra [Pueblo]."

He apparently built the towers himself because (1) he didn't have any money to pay anyone to help him and (2) he wouldn't have known how to tell them what to do.

He included a fountain which he thought would be perfect for baptisms, and supposedly plenty of people came by and baptised their babies in it.

There are two huge towers, and many smaller ones and other structures.

The intricacy of the steel rebar work is beautiful.

While building the towers he worked at various jobs during the daytime, pouring cement and setting tile... and then would come home and work all night on his towers.

Rodia's intials, the year he began the towers, and "[Nuestra] Pueblo."

This is supposed the be the "sail" of the "ship" portion of the towers.

He married a second time, but his second wife left him when he started work on the towers.

The entire property is surrounded by a wall he built and decorated as well.

The towers are composed of (literally!) approximately 11,000 pottery shards; 10,000 seashells; 6,000 pieces of colored glass; and 15,000 glazed tiles. I didn't count; that's the official word from the staff.


When the city found out what he was doing they warned him that he couldn't build his towers over 100 feet – so he made the tallest one 99.5 feet.

Interested in seeing them yourself? (Photos just can't convey the experience.) The site is open daily; it's "closed" on Mondays and Tuesdays, but they can still be viewed from the street. But I suggest taking the tour – it's worth the seven bucks. Information here.

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