America's most famous piece of self-built architecture.
The Watts Towers in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California, are a collection of 17 interconnected structures, two of which reach heights of over 99 feet (30 m).
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 work is a superb example of non-traditional vernacular architecture. The Towers are located near (and visible from) the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn Station of the Metro Rail LACMTA Blue Line.
The sculptures’ armatures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh, and coated with mortar. The main supports are embedded with pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass. The work is decorated with found objects: bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal and sea shells all protrude from the towers. 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. Neighborhood children (including jazz bassist Charles Mingus) brought pieces of broken glass and pottery to Rodia in hopes they would be added to the project, but the majority of Rodia’s material consisted of damaged pieces from the Malibu Pottery, where he worked for many years.
Update February 2018: The Watts Towers are currently closed due to restoration and conservation efforts. However, guided tours around the perimeter are still available from Thursday through Sunday (see its official website for details).
Know Before You Go
The best experience is touring the towers with a guide from then Watts Towers Arts Center, next to the site. Guides have an enormous amount of insight into symbolic details, stories to tell, and are great at answering questions. There's a great deal you'll miss during a self-guided tour.
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