A Local Curiousity Becomes Local Identity
The Towers’ chain of ownership became complex after Rodia left. The recipient of Rodia’s gift, Louis Sauceda, sold the property to his neighbor, Joseph Montoya, for $500. Under Montoya’s indifferent stewardship the Towers were vandalized, and in 1956 Rodia’s house burned. In 1957 an order was issued to demolish the remains of the house and raze the Towers. Failure to locate Montoya over the next two years prevented the order from being executed.
In 1959 William Cartwright and Nicholas King discovered the Towers and became determined to preserve them. They located Montoya and bought the property from him for $20, with a promise to pay more. Hoping to improve the property, they applied for a permit to build a caretaker’s house on the site but were stopped by the earlier demolition order.
To save the Towers, Cartwright and King founded the “Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts,” with the initial goal of having the demolition order cancelled. To prove the Towers were stable, a stress test was devised that involved subjecting the tallest Tower to 10,000 pounds of pressure in an effort to topple it. It passed the test and the demolition order was withdrawn.
When a Private Vision Becoms a Public Legacy
In 1963 Watts Towers became the fifteenth Historic-Cultural Monument to be designated by the City of Los Angeles. The Towers are also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Watts Towers passed from private to public ownership in 1975 when the “Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts” gave them to the City of Los Angeles.
In 1978 the City turned them over to California State Parks who then negotiated an operating agreement with the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs to manage the conservation and tour program. The property was officially designated: Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park
How Can It Possibly Keep Standing?
The inherent vulnerability of the materials used to create Watts Towers means that continual effort is necessary to maintain their current state of preservation. Much of the conservation falls into two categories; repair of cracks, and stabilizing and reattaching ornamentation.
Cracks are repaired by first carefully cleaning the fissures with small brushed, water and air pressure, then filling them with a custom-designed concrete mix to compliment the surrounding surfaces.
When ornamentation becomes detached, the location where it fell is documented and then it is cleaned with soft brushes. Using a photographic database of more than five thousand images taken between 1986 and 1991, conservators try to identify the fragment’s original location and reattach it using special epoxies. When a crack is repaired or a fragment is reattached, the entire process is photographed and becomes part of the permanent conservation database.The preservation of Watts Towers is a complex and endless process. Starting with Rodia’s own efforts to repair cracks before his later works were even finished, there has been ongoing conservation effort aimed at stabilizing and preserving the structures.
The basic philosophy for these efforts is simple...
Preserve the legacy of Simon Rodia.
More from me: When I first drove up to the site of the Towers, I expected them to be much larger than they were. Ed and I were driving around the neighborhood, relying on the GPS to get us to the exact spot. I kept saying to Ed "You'll see them once we're close," thinking they would be towering over the surrounding homes and buildings. I was wrong.
We parked and walked up to the gated structure when we were approached by a security guard who told us to go inside for the tour. It was seven dollars per person for the tour and at first I was like, "Eh. I don't want to pay seven dollars to see this. I'll just take a few pictures." But then as I glimpsed it through the gates, I thought about my brother who is a tile setter and thought I just had to get in there and see the work of this guy up close. If for no other reason than to get pictures for my brother. When I got in there, I wished he was there to experience it with me. Not because it was tile work worthy of the Italian tile masters, but because of the amount of work put into it and the creativity of it all.
It took Simon Rodia 34 years to complete his project; I can't imagine my sister-in-law being okay with my brother building an homage to tile in their backyard for 34 years. Who would dump the garbage and grill steaks?? Funny thing is, my brother will be 42 this year, the same age Rodia was when began work on the towers.
So I guess if my brother gets started now...
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1 YEAR AGO: The Clouds And Trees Line Up For Bed
2 YEARS AGO: The Shimmer Of The Sea
3 YEARS AGO: Indian Gallery
4 YEARS AGO: Geography Test