LA’s Greatest Landmarks: Watts Towers

Jc Olivera's photo used through Creative Commons

Everybody’s got a dream. A lot of people, they dream about being famous. They come to LA because they believe themselves to be talented enough or beautiful enough or just lucky enough to become a big star or a big star-maker. Most of those people become waiters. Hence, Sunset Boulevard is known as the boulevard of broken dreams and L.A. is home to the most adorable barristas and night auditors you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Some people have more eccentric or offbeat dreams though, and a lot of those people end up here as well (R.I.P. Silver Lake Walking Man).

Kalavinka's photo used through Creative Commons
Simon Rodia was of the latter stripe. He immigrated to the U.S. when he was fifteen, became a construction worker, married and divorced three times, and when he was in his early forties, set about constructing a legacy for one of L.A.’s most maligned neighborhoods. Rodia worked for thirty-three years building a monument of seventeen structures. The towers reach almost 100 feet in the air. The surfaces are jeweled with pottery, broken glass and tiles. And the whole of it was built by hand by one man who “had it in mind to do something big.”

Ask anyone who doesn’t live in the neighborhood what they think of when they think of Watts and they’ll say the Watts riots and the Watts Towers. That’s a legacy, ladies and gentlemen. This from a man who explained his accomplishment thusly, “Why I build it?  I can’t tell you.  Why a man make the pants?  Why a man make the shoes?” Why indeed? Not all of our dreams are broken in L.A.

Despite the city’s boneheaded attempt to raze the towers in the 50s, they live on. You can visit them Wednesday through Sunday (tours Friday through Sunday). I should confess, though, that despite having a great affection for “outsider art” (though I find this phrase a bit classist and annoying) and having lived in L.A. for going on nine years now, I have never been to the Watts Towers. I was all set to go this past Sunday, but in fact, I was stood up for a date. [Look for my Boulevard of Broken Dates post sometime in the near future.] Like Kevin, I had great aspirations for this post, but life happens to all of us.

5 thoughts on “LA’s Greatest Landmarks: Watts Towers”

  1. Don’t be afraid to go alone – the neighborhood during the daytime is poor but not scary. There’s a nice little park around the towers where people have picnics, and the museum next door always has some interesting exhibit. I believe their parking lot has closed (there’s something called a Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center there now – Mingus grew up in the neighborhood) but street parking is plentiful. You should not put this off any longer – the towers are truly incredible, especially when you get to walk amongst them, and the tour guides I’ve had have always been knowledgeable and friendly. It’s just 2 hours of your time, including the time it takes to drive there and back. Go this weekend!

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