never clear), seashells, shards of cheap crockery, multicolored ceramic tile, mirrors, pebbles, and fragments of marble—that create a riot of color and texture. Like the work of Gaudí, Rodia’s busy, beautiful buildings are beyond categorization and simply beggar description. Indeed, the artist could not provide a rationale for his own work: “I think if I hire a man he don’t, know what to do. A million times I don’t know what to do myself.” His motivation? “I wanted to do something for the United States because there are nice people in this country.”


Watts Towers, Los Angeles, California; Sabato (Simon) Rodia, architect, engineer, and builder, 1921–1954.

After World War II, confronted by major social changes in Watts, Rodia became increasingly withdrawn. In 1954, when he was approaching 75, he gave his property to a Latino neighbor and retired to Martinez, northern California. He never saw the towers again. In 1965 he was hospitalized after suffering a stroke and died shortly afterward, happy at having heard of public praise for his work. A memorial service was held at the base of his towers.

After fire ravaged Rodia’s house in 1955, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety ordered the property demolished. But the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts successfully fought to preserve it. Professional engineering tests conducted in 1959 proved the towers’ structural strength and safety in earthquakes. The committee continued to preserve and maintain the structures for sixteen years, until in 1975 it turned over the towers and the adjoining Arts Center building to the city of Los Angeles for operation and maintenance. Three years later they became the property of the state of California, and a restoration program was initiated for the three tall towers. In 1985 responsibility for the towers and the Watts Towers Arts Center passed to the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, where it remains. Both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty Conservation Institute have shared in the conservation program since 1986. The towers were closed to the public after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and a $1.9 million restoration project was launched in August 2000; the work was completed in 2001. In the meantime, the Environmental Affairs Department and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps planted over eighty new trees in the adjacent park.

See also

Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family)

Further reading

Goldstone, Bud, and Arloa Raquin Goldstone. 1997. The Los Angeles Watts Towers. Los Angeles: Oxford University Press.

Kaplan, Sam Hall. 1987. LA Lost and Found: An Architectural History of Los Angeles. New York: Crown Publishers.

Ward, Daniel Franklin. 1986. Simon Rodia and His Towers in Watts: An Introduction and a Bibliography. Monticello, IL: Vance Bibliographies.


Stuttgart, Germany

An acute accommodation shortage after World War I led many European cities to develop low-cost public