I’ve never been a fan of the term “bucket list” so, when I was about twelve, I created a Life List of things I wanted to do or try. In 2009 this evolved into my Adventure List which became the basis of my blog and, ultimately, a life philosophy I would share with others. At the top of that list? Watts Towers. Why? I wish I could tell you.
The fact that visiting Watts Towers topped by Adventure List is a mystery (I must have heard about it or seen pictures of it in my youth and it just stuck with me), but it’s the perfect example of the randomness that characterizes such lists. There doesn’t have to be a reason, you just have to write down any and all things that spark your curiosity. Then go on adventures and have new experiences!
After almost a decade on my list I finally visited the South Los Angeles landmark and, what made it even better, I hadn’t even planned on it! I was traveling with my Dad and we missed the exit for another site we’d been planning to see because we were too engrossed in conversation, so I pulled up the ol’ Google and searched nearby places of interest. Eureka!
“Watts Towers!” I yelled.
“Let’s go to Watts Towers!”
To my complete and utter surprise my Dad agreed. I’d brought up visiting the Towers over the years and he never wanted to go because, having grown up in Los Angeles, he knew they weren’t located in the best neighborhood. I guess I caught him on a day he was feeling adventurous.
The story goes that Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, purchased a triangular-shaped lot on 107th Street in 1921 and began creating his immense works of art after work and on weekends. What are referred to collectively as the “Watts Towers” are actually 17 sculptures, the tallest of which is just shy of 100 feet tall. Rodia transformed his little triangle of land over the course of 34 years and lived on-site until moving to Martinez, CA at the age of 74.
According to wattstowers.us, he “worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs. Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer’s belt” and “adorned his towers with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile.” Apparently he “had it in mind to do something big” and just… did it. How fantastic is that?!
The site is now the official home of the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus. Anyone can take a self-guided tour around the towers, as we did, but if you want to go inside the gates you’re going to have to wait until the current refurbishment project is finished. Bummer!
While I can’t speak to the safety of the neighborhood, we had a very nice time there and the arts complex surrounding the towers was clean and welcoming. Even outside the fence, you get a great view of the towering structures and, if you look closely, all of the amazing mosaic detail. I was just as fascinated by what was created as why it was created, so after our visit I did a bit of research and made an unexpected discovery. I’m now 99% sure the first time I heard about Watts Towers was from Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow! It all makes sense now.
A couple of short documentaries I came across actually had interviews with Rodia and members of the community who grew up watching him work. He would sing along with Caruso as he worked, climbing higher and higher, and would tell people that he just wanted to make something. Maybe he needed a project to work on in his spare time, maybe he wanted to make something that people would like, maybe he wanted to reach the sky. The motivations behind his sculptures didn’t seem to matter much to him. He just wanted to create. And because of that, we get to see beauty through his eyes. Some people called him crazy, some people called him a genius, and some people felt his works of art brought the community together. My favorite quote was from a man who said Simon might have been crazy, but it was the kind of crazy we should all be.
Watts Towers is located at 1765 E. 107th St, Los Angeles. Call (213) 847-4646 or visit www.wattstowers.org for more information.
"Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we will be able to treat life as art."