Watts is a working class community in South LA with a reputation as a violence-prone and impoverished area, known for gang violence and riots. In recent years community leaders have tried to give extra attention to museums and the landmark Watts Towers, hoping to bring visitors to the community, and help lift the negative stigma that Watts has had.
The Watts Towers have become a sculptural and architectural landmark that has attracted many artists and professionals to the area. Museums and art galleries have opened near the towers as part of a community revitalization strategy.
The Watts Towers, now a nationally recognized historical landmark in Los Angeles, is a collection of 17 interconnected structures. They were built by Italian immigrant construction worker, Sam Rodia in his spare time over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. The work is clearly is evocative of the work of Spanish Architect Antonio Gaudi.
The sculptures’ armatures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh and coated with mortar. The main supports are embedded with pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass. They are decorated with found objects, including bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal and sea shells.
At the time Rodia’s neighbors did not appreciate his towers, and thought they were ugly. Others, thought it was some kind of secret government spy antennae. This resulted in Rodia being harassed, and the towers being vandalized. Sick of it all, Rodia eventually gave the property away, and moved to Martinez, CA never to be seen in Watts again.
The city was all set to demolish the Watts Towers, Rodia’s home had burned down, and it seemed like the end for the Watts Towers, but a Curator from LACMA and prominent actors, film editors, artists and architects formed the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts, and negotiated with the city to test the structure’s stability, and eventually were granted permission to restore the site. The Committee negotiated with the city to allow for an engineering test to establish the safety of the structures. (for more info).