Set in Watts, one of the least touristy areas of Los Angeles, a gritty South Central neighborhood that’s otherwise best known for a series of violent riots in the late 1960s, the Watts Towers are nonetheless one of the most fantastic attractions in the city. Built between 1921 and 1954 by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia, this National Historic landmark is a huge fanciful temple of steel spires and found objects, a quirky combination of a ship, a cityscape and a cathedral.
Inspired by a religious vision, Rodia spent more than three decades working on these 17 encrusted towers in his spare time, cobbling together his creation with scrap rebar and cement mortar from construction sites, bits of metal and trash from the nearby Pacific Railway Car tracks, and pottery shards, broken bottles and whole seashells.
Driven away by deeply unappreciative neighbors, Rodia abandoned his towers in 1955, and they stood neglected until 1959, when an actor and a filmmaker brought attention to their plight and got the LA arts community (including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA]) to organize on their behalf. The result was the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts, which is now a partnership between the City of Los Angeles and LACMA; the Committee now runs the adjacent Watts Towers Arts Center, which offers art and music classes and stages cultural events.
Docents from the Center offer tours of the Towers on a first-come,
first-served basis, and not on rainy days; this is the ideal way to see
the Towers, as otherwise you have to stand outside of a locked fence and
peer inside, given only one placard’s worth of information to read.
plenty of free street parking near the Towers, but they’re also just a
few blocks from the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn Station of the Metro
Rail’s Blue Line.