WATTS TOWERS by Sam Rodia
the Watts Towers Arts Center
The Watts Towers, consisting of seventeen major sculptures constructed
of structural steel and covered with mortar, are the work of one man
- Simon Rodia ( (read more on
Simon Rodia). Rodia, born Sabato Rodia in Ribottoli, Italy in 1879,
was known by a variety of names including Don Simon, Simon Rodilla,
Sam and Simon. Although his neighbors in watts knew him as "Sam Rodilla",
the official name of his work is "the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia".
Rodia's older brother immigrated to the United States in 1895 and settled
in Pennsylvania where he worked in the coal mines. Rodia followed his
brother a few years later. Little is known about his early life in the
United States except that he moved to the west coast and found work
in rock quarries and logging and railroad camps as a construction worker.
In 1921, Rodia purchased the triangular-shaped lot at 1761-1765 107th
Street in Los Angeles and began to construct his masterpiece, which
he called "Nuestro Pueblo" (meaning "our town"). For 34 years, Rodia
worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine
equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs.
Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers
and a window-washer's belt and buckle.r>
Construction worker by day and artist by night, Rodia adorned his towers
with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and
tile, a rare piece of 19th-century, hand painted Canton ware and many
pieces of 20th-century American ceramics. Rodia once said, "I had it
in mind to do something big and I did it." The tallest of his towers
stands 99½ feet and contains the longest slender reinforced concrete
column in the world. The monument also features a gazebo with a circular
bench, three bird baths, a center column and a spire reaching a height
of 38 feet. Rodia's "ship of Marco Polo" has a spire of 28 feet, and
the 140-foot long "south wall" is decorated extensively with tiles,
sea shells, pottery, glass and hand-drawn designs.
In 1955, when Rodia was approaching 75, he deeded his property to a
neighbor and retired to Martinez, California to be near his family.
A fire ruined Rodia's little house in 1956. within a few years the Department
of Building and Safety ordered the property demolished. A group of concerned
citizens, calling themselves "The Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers
in Watts", fought successfully to save the Towers by collecting signatures
and money and devising an engineering test in 1959 that proved the Towers'
strength and safety.
Bill Cartwright and Nick King purchased the Towers from Mr.
Montoya for $3,000.00 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 Towers
proved stronger than the test equipment. Therefore, the test was
stopped and the Towers were deemed safe, and preservation efforts
began. 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.
In 1975, the committee, which had persevered the unique work of art
for 16 years, gave the 'Towers and adjoining Arts Center building to
the City of Los Angeles for operation and maintenance. In 1978, the
Towers were deeded to the State, which undertook extensive restoration
of the three main towers. . In 1985, continuing restoration responsibilities
were given to the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and
currently both the Towers and the Watts Towers Arts Center are under
the operation of the Cultural Affairs Department.
while the Towers fall into no strict art category, international authorities
and the general public alike have lauded them as a unique monument to
the human spirit and the persistence of a singular vision. The Watts
Towers, listed on the National Register of Historic Places are a National
Historic Landmark, a State of California Historic Park and Historic-Cultural
Monument No. 15, as designated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage
The Cultural Affairs Department, through the Watts Towers Arts Center,
provides diverse cultural enrichment programming through tours, lectures,
changing exhibits and studio workshops for both teachers and school
children. Each year, thousands of people are attracted to the Towers'
site for the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival and the Watts Towers
Day of the Drum Festival.
For further information on the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia located
at 1761-1765 East 107th Street call the
Cultural Affairs Department (213) 473-8493 or
the Watts Towers Arts Center and tours
call (213) 847-4646 fax (323) 564 7030
add +1 when dialing from abroad
Accommodations for disabilities are available upon 72-hour notice for
department events/programs. Information in alternative formats also
is available upon request.
Call +1 (213) 473-8343 or TDD (213) 473-8339.