The Watts Towers or Towers of Simon Rodia in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California, is a collection of 17 interconnected structures, two of which reach heights of over 99 feet (30 m). The Towers were built by Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato (“Sam” or “Simon”) Rodia in his spare time over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. The work is an example of non-traditional vernacular architecture and American Art
The Watts Towers are located near (and visible from) the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn Station of the Metro Rail LACMTA Blue Line. They were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
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 seashells. Rodia called the towers Nuestro Pueblo (which means “our town” in Spanish). He built them with no special equipment or predetermined design, working alone with hand tools and window-washer’s equipment. Neighborhood children brought pieces of broken glass and pottery to Rodia, some of which were added, but the majority of his material consisted of damaged pieces from the Malibu Pottery or CALCO (California Clay Products Company), located nearby. The green glass includes recognizable soft drink bottles from the 1930s through the 1950s, some still bearing the former logos of 7 Up, Squirt, Bubble Up, and Canada Dry; blue glass appears to be from the milk of magnesia bottles.
The property changed hands, Rodia’s bungalow inside the enclosure was burned down, and the city of Los Angeles condemned the structure and ordered it razed. Actor Nicholas King and film editor William Cartwright visited the site in 1959, saw the neglect, and purchased the property for $3,000 in order to preserve it. When the city found out about the transfer, it decided to perform the demolition before the transfer went through. The towers had already become famous and there was opposition from around the world. King, Cartwright, and museum curator Jim Elliott of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, along with area architects, artists, and community activists formed the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts. The Committee negotiated with the city to allow for an engineering test to establish the safety of the structures.
For the test, a steel cable was attached to each tower and a crane was used to exert lateral force. The crane was unable to topple or even shift the towers with the forces applied, and the test was concluded when the crane experienced mechanical failure. Bud Goldstone and Edward Farrell were the engineer and architects leading the team.