Often compared to Spanish architect Antoni Guadi’s Sagrada Família, the Watts Towers is an outside art structure that the Cultural Heritage Commission of Los Angeles designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Italian immigrant Simon Rodia kept construction of the Watts Towers simple. He worked at railroad camps, rock quarries and as a logger. In the early 1920s he bought an empty lot covering 1761-1765 on East 107th street. He built his masterpiece at night while working a steady job during the day. 

He called his towers Nuestro Pueblo, which in Spanish means “our town”. Watts, Los Angeles, named after Charles H. Watts, was once part of the Rancho La Tajauta Mexican land grant. In 1926 Watts was annexed by the city of Los Angeles.

The project took Rodia almost thirty five years. He used a window-washer’s belt & buckle to hoist himself up the steel structure. He needed nothing more than hand tools and pipe fitter pliers to build the towers.

The tallest tower stands 99.5 feet. Inside stands the tallest concrete column in the world. Around the spires are three bird baths and a gazebo. Rodia decorated his masterpiece with  sea shells, tile and broken glass. He added a rare piece of hand painted Canton ware from the 19th-century and several 20th-century American ceramic pieces.

The Watts Towers are the fifteenth Historic-Cultural Monument on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Watts Tower Arts Center curates the Watts Towers structure.

For the latest events and information about The Watts Towers website.

2 thoughts on “Watts Towers: Steel Spires in the Sky, Los Angeles’ Version of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia

  1. In the following excerpt from his autobiography, Beneath The Underdog, Charles Mingus relates his experience and connection to the Towers as a boy growing up in Watts:

    “At that time in Watts there was an Italian man, named Simon Rodia – though some people said his name was Sabatino Rodella, and his neighbors called him Sam. He had a regular job as a tile setter, but on weekends and at nighttime, under lights he strung up, he was building something strange and mysterious and he’d been working on it since before my boy was born. Nobody knew what it was or what it was for. Around his small frame house he had made a low wall shaped like a ship and inside it he was constructing what looked like three masts, all different heights, shaped like upside-down ice cream cones. First he would set up skeletons of metal and chicken wire, and plaster them over with concrete, then he’d cover that with fancy designs made of pieces of seashells and mirrors and things. He was always changing his ideas while he worked and tearing down what he wasn’t satisfied with and starting over again, so pinnacles tall as a two-story building would rise up and disappear and rise again. What was there yesterday mightn’t be there next time you looked, but then another lacy-looking tower would spring up in its place. Tig Johnson and Cecil J. McNeeley used to gather sacks full of pretty rocks and broken bottles to take to Mr. Rodia, and my boy hung around with them watching him work while he waited for Gloria Scopes, one of his classmates who happened to live just across the street.

    Mr. Rodia was usually cheerful and friendly while he worked, and sometimes, drinking that good red wine from a bottle, he rattled off about Amerigo Vespucci, Julius Caesar, Buffalo Bill and all kinds of things he read about in the old encyclopedia he had in his house, but most of the time it sounded to Charles like he was speaking a foreign language. My boy marveled at what he was doing and felt sorry for him when the local rowdies came around and taunted him and threw rocks and called him crazy, though Mr. Rodia didn’t seem to pay them much mind. Years later when Charles was grown and went back to Watts he saw three fantastic spires standing there – the tallest was over a hundred feet high. By then Rodia had finally finished his work and given it all to a neighbor as a present and gone away, no one knew where.”

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