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Los Angeles Architecture Tours: The Towers of Simon Rodia, aka Watts Towers: Simon Rodia, 1921-1955. HCM #15

               

Is it art? Is it architecture? It's both.

 

Located in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles stands a collection of oddly magnificent towers, single-handedly created by Simon Rodia. Three imposing towers, the tallest of which rises nearly 100 feet into the air, are surrounded by a cluster of smaller towers, birdbaths, fountains, and patios.

 

 Simon Rodia was born in Italy in 1879, moved to the States when he was 14, and traveled the West Coast while holding various odd jobs. In 1921, Rodia purchased a small lot in Watts (which was then its own city, later annexed by the City of Los Angeles in 1926), and began his 34 year project. 

 

The magnificent Watts Towers are comprised of steel reinforced with cement and chicken wire, and laden with Rodia's hand-selected medley of shells, glass, tiles, marbles, and other random, found objects. Rodia passionately devoted his time to the Watts Towers, spending his nights and weekends constructing and decorating these most unique icons. The mosaic encrusted towers have been compared to the work of Antoni Gaudi created decades before Rodia's Watts Towers, but appears to be just coincidence as Rodia had never seen Gaudi's work prior to his own creation. 

               

In 1955, Simon Rodia deeded his land to a neighbor and spent his remaining days in Martinez, California where he died in 1965. Rodia rarely spoke publicly about the Watts Towers, and much is left to conjecture as to why he abandoned the project, or even his desire to build the towers in the first place. Two young men purchased Rodia's property in 1959, and in hopes of saving the Watts Towers, and formed the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts. The committee oversaw a stress test performed in 1959, after the City of Los Angeles deemed the towers hazardous. The towers were stronger than the equipment used to test them, and the city allowed them to remain.

               

The committee dedicated an enormous amount of time, energy, and money into restoring the towers, but when money ran out, it deeded the Watts Towers to the City of Los Angeles in 1975, who in turn deeded the property to the State of California in 1978. Today, the Watts Towers are both a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM #15) and a National Historic Landmark.