It took Simon Rodia 35 years to build the Watts Towers with nothing but his hands and a few simple tools. It is mainly made of steel rebar, wire mesh, concrete, and anything else he could get his hands on.
What You Need To Know
- The iconic Watts Towers have been standing for 100 years
- Simon Rodia single-handedly built the towers from 1921 to 1954
- Rodia used recycled materials like shells, bottles, and rocks to create the unique piece of art
- The Watts Towers Arts Center was founded 60 years ago to inform the community about Rodia’s work and inspire more creativity
The towers are 100 years old and have inspired an entire artistic community in the underserved neighborhood. Members of the Watts community spoke to "LA Times Today" about the towers and what they mean to their community.
Rosie Lee Hooks, the director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, said Rodia used many materials to create the towers.
"Simon Rodia built the Watts Towers all by himself from 1921 to 1954. Now Simon was recycling before it was vogue. He incorporated china, bottles, shells, rocks, just recycling so many things," Hooks said.
Lucy De La Torre, a tour guide at the Watts Towers Arts Center, described the intricacies of the towers' design.
"A lot of people come to visit the towers and they're assuming they're just the three towers. But as you come to visit the towers, or you take a tour, you actually see the inside secrets. The three towers here are actually shaped like the masts of a ship. And if you look in the middle, you'll see a row of harps. That's our sail on our ship. He also put wave lines at the bottom so it looks like a ship is actually sailing," De La Torre said.
Tour guide Martin Wilcots explained how the towers are an example of working art.
"As you see, you've got drainage features that'll drain off your water here out to the streets. You've also got water faucet tools that he's using to create flowers. You also got floor here of panels such that he's using to decorate this area of the floor area right there," Wilcots shared.
Rodia worked alone as he built the towers. In 1954, he gave the deed to the property to a neighbor and moved to Martinez, California, where he stayed until he died. Hooks explained how the towers inspired the Arts Center.
"Some of our elders were very radical, and so they fought for this campus. In 1959, they started to look at restoration and caring for the towers. The community said, 'OK, you care about the towers. What about the community?' So they immediately started classes, and that was the beginning of the Watts Towers Arts Center. There's a really rich foundation here at the Watts Towers Art Center," Hooks said.
Wilcots talked about what the Arts Center means to him and other people in the community.
"It feels like a hub that crosses so many different generations. Some of my colleagues were like me. We came up as students and now we're current employees of the Watts Towers Arts Center, and that's been true for other people in the past. This is when I get emotional about it. I really think of this place as a refuge, and I always wonder what my life would have been without it," he shared.
"We're a campus now and not just the Watts Towers and Watts Towers Arts Center. There's the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center and our garden studio. We have a lot of different activities that we can provide for our visitors and for our local community," Hooks explained.
When Rodia was building the towers, he called them Nuestro Pueblo, or our "our town." The community nurtured his vision for the art piece and allowed him to create it.
"When you look in the Watts Towers, there are lots of hearts. It says to us that time really loved what he was doing. He had to do what he did. It wasn't an option. That's what emanates from those towers: love. Watts Towers Art Center is a guardian of the Watts Towers. They don't live by themselves. We're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the towers, the 60th anniversary of the Watchtower Arts Center, along with the 39th annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival. We serve a purpose here and making sure that our community is exposed to museum and art education," Hooks said.
The Watts Towers aren't officially open yet because of ongoing restoration work, but the Arts Center welcomes guests to view Rodia's work from a short distance. To learn more about the Watts Towers Arts Center, visit wattstowers.org.
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