What are the Watts Towers?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2019
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The Watts Towers are a series of interconnected structures in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. These structures have become famous around the world, and they are one of the few works of folk art which have been accepted onto the United States National Register of Historic Places. Today, the site is maintained by the California parks department, and it is open to any visitors who wish to see it.

Several things about the Watts Towers are distinctive and worthy of note. The first is the sheer size of the project; there are 17 structures, several of which are almost 100 feet (30 meters) tall. The structures are covered in ornate mosaics and decorations, representing thousands of hours of work, and they were built entirely by one man, Sabato Rodia, in his spare time. Many visitors to the towers are also amazed to learn that they were built by hand, without the assistance of heavy machinery or other equipment.

Sabato Rodia began construction on the Watts Towers in 1921. The Italian immigrant said that he “wanted to make something big,” so he went about doing it, bending rebar into shape to make the skeletons of the towers and then covering them in scavenged metal and other found objects before applying a layer of mortar to support his complex mosaics. He finished construction in 1954, and by the time he was done, the Watts Towers were covered in scrap porcelain, glass bottles, and a variety of other objects.


He referred to the towers as nuestro pueblo, or “our town,” but the community in Watts wasn't very receptive to his project. Some suspected that the towers were being used to communicate with the Japanese during the tensions of the Second World War, and Rodia's worksite was often vandalized, while he himself was persecuted. Barely a year after finishing the tours, he left, never to return.

After the Watts Towers were abandoned, the City of Los Angeles tried to destroy them, only to meet with worldwide outcry. The Watts Towers, supporters argued, were an astounding cultural and folk landmark, and it would be criminal to tear them down. As a result, the site was ultimately restored and passed to the ownership of the state for preservation.

Several annual festivals are held at the Watts Towers, and visitors can also see performances at a nearby performing arts center. While the Watts Towers might have started out as the backyard project of a bored Italian immigrant, they turned into an impressive cultural landmark, and they are visited by large numbers of people every year.


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Interesting article!

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