Simon Rodia was an Italian immigrant who was a construction worker by day. For more than 30 years, between 1921 and 1955, he set to work in the evenings single-handedly building his mosaic wonderland piece by piece using nothing more than his hands and simple tools on land he bought for $900. "I had it in my mind to do something big," he said. When he was 75 years old, he gifted the property to a neighbor he liked and moved to Martinez, Calif. never to return again. The Towers have been described as "a unique monument to the human spirit and the persistence of a singular vision." Truer words could not be spoken.
What drives a person to do something without recognition and without expectation? What compels one to create? Rodia had no formal education let alone an education in the arts or in engineering. His work has survived earthquakes and inspired a community to build an arts center right next door.
Watts Towers is at the top of my "must see in LA" list for any visitor or resident alike. The park surrounding the Towers is beautiful and a perfect place for a picnic. The adjacent Arts Center has three small gallery spaces that are a must see. Take the tour which allows you to go inside this magnificent structure and see the intimate details. You can't help but look at each mosaic piece and wonder why Rodia chose that one and placed it that way and put it in that spot. Everyone associated with the Towers--from the security guard patrolling the grounds to the tour guide (thanks, Howard!!) to the people working in the Arts Center and galleries--is friendly, passionate, and engaging. There is a sense of pride in this place...pride in the community of artists who have come from here (including Charles Mingus), pride in being a place for encouraging and supporting the arts, and pride in self-driven accomplishment. For all of the vile history Watts is attached to, there is no room for pity or excuses here. You can't help but walk away wondering what more you could do with your own life. What would your Watts Towers look like, if you put your mind to it?