Both of our kids used to live in LA, so trips south were on the agenda every once in a while. When we ran out of museums, I finally talked everyone into a trip to Watts. Have you heard of the towers? They are the work of one man, a day laborer who spent every minute off the job, and every cent he earned at it, constructing these amazing structures in his back yard. The armatures are rebar. Aside from that and the cement covering it, everything is done with scrounged materials.
In the close-up, you can see some of the detail. Every surface is covered with mosaics made of broken crockery, glass, shells, tiles, etc. The fence around the perimeter of the property has old bed springs as its base. Newel posts are topped with finials of teapots. Simon Rodea spent every available waking hour either foraging for materials or scrambling up his structures by means of a window washer’s belt and buckle. When dark fell, he rigged up lighting so he could continue his work. He made no drawings and used only the simplest of tools.
The tallest of the towers is 99.5′. Rodea’s comment on his magnificent art work was typically humble: “I had in mind to do something big and I did it.” His obsession had cost him his wife, but upon completion he deeded the property to a neighbor and moved away to be close to family. He was 75. The place fell into neglect. School children used the finials for target practice. The city declared it a hazard and prepared to raze it to the ground. A group of artists and actors, led, I seem to remember, by Vincent Price, were successful in saving them, in no small part by way of an engineering test that included a truck with a winch attempting to pull them down. Buckminster Fuller, no less, proclaimed them marvels of engineering.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they are protected and maintained. For a small fee, you can take a tour, hear the remarkable story, and best of all, sit a spell and soak up the extraordinary atmosphere.