Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Visiting Watts Towers (day after Christmas)

Over the holidays U. wanted to show Astrid something of cultural relevance so we visited the Watts Towers, in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California. Sitting next to the statue in front of the museum.
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 sculptures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh, coated with mortar. Rodia called the towers Nuestro Pueblo, meaning "our town." Rodia built them with no special equipment or (so far as is known) predetermined design, working alone with hand tools and window-washer's equipment. Two of the structures reach heights of over 99 feet (30 m).

Rodia decorated his structures using found objects: bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal, sea shells, and damaged pieces from the Malibu Pottery, where he worked for many years. Green glass includes recognizable soft drink bottles, some still bearing the logos of 7 Up, Squirt, Bubble-Up, and Canada Dry; blue glass appears to be from milk of magnesia bottles.
There's not a lot known about Simon Rodia, but a lot of speculation on why he started the towers and then abandoned them after working on them for 33 years. He was severely depressed after the death of his daughter. Rumor has it that he became an alcoholic and this was the reason his wife took their remaining 2 sons and left him, and he never saw him family again. Maybe he was manic? Maybe it was cathartic? He worked on his towers after work and on the weekends for 33 years and never finished. Some think that his intention was to live there. (There is a bathtub.)

But whatever the case, he had a vision and his work is beautiful and inspirational. Today it's an oasis in a harsh inner city where you see more barbed wire than beauty.

Simon Rodia is quoted as saying, "I wanted to do something...something big...and I did it."

According to Wikipedia, Rodia reportedly did not get along with his neighbors, some of whom allowed their children to vandalize his work. Rumors that the towers were antennae for communicating with enemy Japanese forces, or contained buried treasure, caused suspicion and further vandalism.

In 1955, Rodia gave the property away and left, reportedly tired of the abuse he had received. He retired to Martinez, California, and never came back. He died a decade later.
Here Astrid is standing in front of some African instruments in the adjacent museum.
The curator of the museum was nice enough to explain and show us a 15 minute video about the Watts Towers and Simon Rodia (pronounced incorrectly by the documentary narrator as Rodilla, the name that was given to him by Simon Rodia's Spanish speaking neighbors, but incorrectly pronouncing the silent "L").More art work inside the museum.The outside wall of the building is decorated with tiles. Astrid is pointing out the car.The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.Astrid striking a pose.

She's so used to having her photo taken that now when she does something cute she says, "Mom, take a picture!"Astrid wanted to sit on each colored rock.Going to sit on the green rock.Sitting on the red rock.

I've been to Watts Towers and the museum before, but it was the first time for U. and Astrid.

If you're planning on visiting the towers for the first time, I would recommend you go on a weekend, or call ahead of time to schedule a tour. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to walk inside, and can only see the structures from the outside parameter.

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