Friday, June 11, 2010

Watts Towers

Oh lord, I'm all fired up. First off- pictures of Watts Towers do not do it justice. Second of all- standing in front of Watts Towers does not do it justice. In both instances the humorless California sun blots out its thousands of colors and renders it a huge gray ghost ship.

The artist behind these massive towers, the Italian construction worker Simon Rodia, was crafting a ship(once inside the structure the layout of a ship is evident, down to the steering wheel on one of the spirals). But it is a ship full of color and love and hope. It was a ship back to his homeland and it was a ship that symbolized the promise of America and the American dream.

Rodia built this amazing testament to genius and commitment in his own backyard in Watts. Using metal, special cement and found objects(china, bottles, plates, rocks, shells) he created the towers from 1921-1954. Once you are inside the site, you are in a sparkling collage of color and texture and weirdness. The towers are a textbook on the creative process which this strange, apparently unlikable man celebrated by pressing his tools in cement, as if doing them honor.

He covered everything on his property with mosaics, from the fireplace he used to melt glass and metal, to his mailbox and the bench his wife used to sit on when she was waiting for him to come home(she eventually left him due to his obsession with his project.) Hearts are everywhere, on the ground and between the tiles. Flying buttresses connecting one tower to the other are covered in porcelain and ingenious ladders are built into the towers so that the 4'9" Rodia could stand steady as he built higher and higher.

The towers are in a park and sit next to a very cool Arts Center for kids. Everyone who
works here- from the guy who gave me my tour, to the ladies in the office, are super cool and joyful. The center provides free artistic programs for 6,000 at risk kids in the city of Watts. They make some money through tours of the towers, but otherwise they are funded by the city.

And now the city is threatening to cut off funding for the Watts Towers Arts Center and they are in great danger of closing. That means 6,000 children will be left without a place to create their American future, without a safe place to hang out after school. For those of you who haven't been there- Watts is scary disadvantaged. I like to think I am pretty well-versed in desolate landscapes, but Watts only compares to some rural areas I have seen in Mississippi and Jamaica. Their kids need this center.

Please go to and sign the petition demanding the mayor keep his commitment to today's youth and continue funding both the center and the historical park. What a special place Watts Towers is. It is a living testament to the transformative power of art and its ability to make this sometimes gray world extraordinary.

Travel: C-
Ease: C
Content: A-
Subjective coolness: A-
Overall: B

Directions: Take the 101-S to the 110-S. After about 9 miles merge onto the 105-E. Take the Wilmington Ave. exit and turn left on Wilmington.
Turn left at E 108 Street, right onto Willowbrook Ave. and right onto 107th street. There is gated and street parking.
Hours: Wens-Sat. 10am-4pm. Sunday 12pm-4pm.
Price: Tour is $7 for adults and $3 for seniors and children(tour includes a 15 minute documentary).

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