Real Steel

The Watts Towers are among the most revered works of American folk art on the West Coast. A National Historic Landmark, the interconnecting structures were built by one person—Italian immigrant Simon Rodia—over 34 years. Here’s a closer look at the masterpiece.


1. The Cracks
After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted nearly $2 million to restore the towers. Routine inspections and maintenance are now required.

2. The Armatures
Simon Rodia, a construction worker, began building the towers in 1921. He used steel, wire, and cement for the structures, without the benefit of drills, welding torches, or rivet guns. The work was completed in 1955.

3. The Spires
The towers comprise 17 structures; the two tallest reach 99 feet. Beneath them are a gazebo and an aboveground pool.

4. The Location
Taking up a parcel of land at 1765 East 107th Street in South Los Angeles, the Watts Towers became part of the California state parks system in 1978.

5. The Mosaics
The towers and fence are decorated with salvaged materials Rodia found in his Watts neighborhood or at job sites. Among the thousands of embedded pieces are bottle caps, bits of glass, ceramic tiles, broken dishes, mirror shards, seashells, and rocks.

6. The Property
Rodia lived nearby in a house that burned down in 1955, a year after he moved to the Bay Area. Parts of his residence are still standing, including the facade, fireplace, and chimney.

7. The Fence
The assemblage features an eight-foot-high wraparound fence, one reason the work has remained intact over the years. The adjacent Watts Towers Arts Center offers tours Wednesday through Sunday.

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