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Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers

Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers
Los Angeles, California, United States

Sabato “Simon” Rodia (1879 – 1965) emigrated from Italy to the United States when he was fourteen years old and eventually settled in California where he worked in masonry and construction. Beginning in 1921, Rodia spent three decades building seventeen structures made of steel and mortar and mosaicked them in glass, tile, and seashells. Rodia constructed all the towers without machinery; the tallest among them is 99 ½ feet tall. In the 1950s Rodia moved away and left the keys to the property with a neighbor.

In 1956, the City of Los Angeles considered the space to be a hazard and ordered for it to be destroyed. A committee of actors, architects, artists, and engineers purchased the property and negotiated with the city to preserve the work. This landmark case paved the way for the preservation of other art environments in America. The committee operated Watts Towers independently until 1975, when the City of Los Angeles, and later the State of California, assisted in the preservation as the site became famous. 

Currently, the site is under the care of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). They are undertaking a large conservation and preservation project so guided tours are only offered of the outside of the site. The Watts Towers Arts Center continues to host exhibitions and programming throughout the project.

Isaiah visited Watts Towers in 1987. Simon Rodia and Watts Towers are both included in the mosaic in the middle gallery and outside in the sculpture garden. An etching of the Watts Towers that Isaiah made after visiting is embedded in the wall in the back gallery.

Resources:
Biography and photos
Video The Towers Documentary by William Hale (13 minutes; 1957, remastered 2010)
Book Sabato Rodia’s Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development by Luisa Del Giudice (2014)