Watts Towers

Watts Tower
Photo by: Michael Oh, Creative Commons

Sabato “Simon” Rodia had a big dream: he wanted to create a structure that represents his beloved hometown in Watts, California. Rodia, an Italian immigrant, was a simple construction worker when he was inspired to create one of the most popular monuments in the US, the Los Angeles Watts Towers.

One can’t talk enough about the impressive design and structure of the Watts Tower without delving into the equally impressive and somewhat tragic history of its designer. Part of the fame of the Watts Towers can be attributed to the fact that Rodia was a self-made architect. He constructed the 17 interconnected structures from 1921 to 1954, a total of 33 years, during his spare time using only hand tools and window washing equipment. The two tallest towers in the collection are 99 and 97 feet tall. He initially dubbed his work as Nuestro Pueblo or “Our Town.” Despite being the work of an amateur architect, the Watts Towers is often cited as perfect examples of American Naïve art and non-traditional vernacular architecture.

Rodia used an assortment of materials during the construction. For example, the armatures are made of rods as well as steel pipes wrapped in old wire mesh and then coated in mortar, while the main supports have pieces of glassware, porcelain, and tile embedded in them. These structures are decorated with all sorts of objects like bottles, ceramic tiles, sea shells, and even bed frames. If you take a closer look at some of the green glass decorations, you can still spot some logos of soft drink brands like 7 Up, Canada Dry, and other brands.

Sadly, he did not get to see his masterpiece gain the much deserved acclaim. Rodia’s work was often subjected to abuse from his neighbors who vandalized and criticized his work, even going as far as accusing it of helping enemy forces during the war. Rodia moved away in 1955 after giving the property away and never returned: a decade later, he died.

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