Monday, September 9, 2013

Watts Towers as Mosaic Art

Are they mosaics? How could they not be? Look at these pictures!

Seventeen structures make up the Watts Towers, with three tall towers dominating. The tallest, at 30 meters (99 feet) , has the longerst reinforced concrete column in the world.

Simon (actually, Sabato) Rodia built the Watts Towers between 1921 and 1954--working on them for thirty-three years. He wasn't an engineer or a trained artist. He just plugged away with hand tools in the evenings and weekends, after putting in his time as a construction worker.

He owned the  land on the 1700 block of East 107th Street, and back in those days you could pretty much put up what you wanted on your property. Public agencies didn't involve themselves and the building codes were, well, mostly ignored by everyone.

Rodia called his work "Nuestra Pueblo" Why did he build it? He said he wanted to do something big.

He started his structures by wiring rebar or pipe together, then wrapped the joints with wire mesh. He packed them with mortar added tiles, pottery, broken bottles and glass, shells, and all sorts of found objects to make mosaics, or he used simple tools to impress hearts, spirals, vines, and other designs into the drying mortar.

And while he did all that, he hung onto the towers with a window washer's belt.

The Watts Tower US website is the source of the pictures above and to the right. That site is maintained as a labor of love and has updated information on it about the Towers. You can see videos there too.

In 1956, the Watts Towers were almost demolished. No one interfered when he built them, but when Rodia gave the triangular property to a neighbor who then sold it to someone who wanted to turn it into a commercial site, the city wanted to tear it down because of its lack of permits.

There was a public outcry. New owners proved that the Towers were stronger than any of the cranes and cables meant to test their strength, so the Towers stayed.

The grounds are now called a campus. The Watts Towers Art Center opened there in 1961 and  is still offering classes and exhibiting art; admission is free.On the last Saturday of September--which is coming up--they always host a Drum Festival, and the next Sunday, a Jazz Festival. More about that here

The Charles Mingus Youth Center opened in 2008.

Rodia moved to Martinez, CA after he gave the property away. He died in 1965.

The two men who had saved the Watts Towers by buying them and stopping their demolition--Bill Cartwright and Nicholas King--gave the property and towers to the city of Los Angeles in 1975, and the city turned them over to the state in 1978. So technically, the Watts Towers are a State Park.

But the site is run by a combination of our city's Cultural Affairs Department and LACMA--the LA County Museum of Art.

The Towers were named both a California Historic Landmark and a National Historic Monument in 1990.

You can tour the Watts Towers on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday any week from 10:30 am to 3 pm, and on Sundays from 12:30 pm to 3 pm--unless it rains. No tours in the rain!

Tours leave every half hour. The charge is a measly $7, though children and seniors get discounts.

The photo on the left was taken by friends of my friends Pol and Andy, who  stopped here on a Tuesday on their way to Popeye's (yes, Pol was craving. He worked there in high school and still has to get a fix occasionally), so I know that this is now as close as you can get when it's closed. No tours on Tuesday. It's fenced off.

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