I don’t remember when was the last time I was at the Watts Towers but it is possibly 15 to 20 years ago… or more, or less. As I am sure I have mentioned before, as you get older time warps into a continuum. Yesterday is as pale as 30 years ago and 30 years ago is as fresh as yesterday.
I signed up for a photography class through Santa Monica College consisting of riding the rails to visit various locations around LA. I’ve been to all the places on the itinerary and photographed them. But as much as I love exploring on my own or being accompanied by friends without cameras (who are rightly impatient while I get the perfect shot), once in a while I enjoy sharing a day with other photographers.
One minor problem, I had discovered on the journey to downtown LA on the Expo Line that the 7th & Metro station was closed for upgrading all weekend. Passengers had to disembark at the 23rd Street Station (recently renamed as LATTC/Ortho Institute Station just to complicate matters) and take a shuttle bus to the end of the line. Then I resumed my trip on the Red Line to Union Station.
So in order to get to Watts Towers on the Blue Line, we had to go through the Red Line/shuttle bus/Blue Line conundrum there and back again. But we survived.
Watts was our first photo stop. We alighted the train at 103rd Street and walked the few blocks to the Towers.
A million years ago when I was a docent with the Los Angeles Conservancy I had the honor of leading several tours through the Towers.
To quote Wikipedia: The Watts Towers, Towers of Simon Rodia, or Nuestro Pueblo (“our town”) are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural structures within the Simon Rodia State Historic Park in the Watts community of Los Angeles. The tallest of the towers reaches a height of over 99 feet (30 m). The towers and walls were designed and built by Sabato (“Simon”) Rodia (1879-1965), an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954.
The Towers are amazing enough but when you consider they were built by one man who spent every spare minute of his life thinking about the design, collecting materials and working on the construction, it is nothing less than a miracle. Rodia would not let anybody else help him. After all, it was all in his mind and how could he get across to anybody else what he wanted to do?
At the same time he was working on this project he had a fulltime job in construction. Of course, it was these skills that enabled him to build his masterpiece.
Kids would bring him items they “found” around the neighborhood or their homes in exchange for candy. Who knows how many teacups or vases went missing and ended up as part of the mosaics?
The day came when Rodia decided he was done. All the work had taken its toll and in 1955 at the age of 76 he turned the keys to his property over to the neighbors and left Los Angeles to live with his sister. He never returned and died ten years later.
At one point the city was about to demolish the entire site. But there was an outcry from around the world. A structural test was performed which the Towers passed with flying colors. So the Towers were saved. In 1990 they were designated both a National Historic Landmark and a California Historical Landmark. The site is currently operated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.
In order to get inside past the fence to take photos you have to take the tour. But at $3 for the senior entrance fee I was not complaining. And despite the best efforts of the docent who was herding us along like 3rd graders, I did manage to take a few photos. The blazing sun didn’t help either!
Of course I always want more time but I think the pictures I was able to get give you a pretty good idea of what the Watts Towers are all about!
Our next stop was back to downtown LA and the Grand Central Market for lunch. I’ll continue the tour in a future post.
All photos and content copyright roslyn m wilkins. Please feel free to pass along this post via email or social media, but if you wish to use some of our images or text outside of the context of this blog, either give full credit to myself and link to One Good Life in Los Angeles, or contact us for proper usage. Thanks!