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Creator of Watts Towers

Creator of Watts Towers

March 2, 1953: Italian American immigrant Simon Rodia poses with his artistic creation, the Watts Towers.  Rodia single-handedly created the artwork over a period of 33 years on a triangular lot at 1761-1765 E. 107th St.

Los Angeles Daily News staff photographer Garry Watson arrived unannounced with a reporter.

They found Rodia very cooperative.  “I asked him climb up on the tower,” says Watson, “and proceeded to take his photo with the speed graphic at f/11 at 250th a second. I filled in the shadows with a number 5 flash bulb.”

A year later, Rodia finished working on the towers and moved to Martinez in Northern California.

The Los Angeles Times reported Rodia’s passing in this 1965 obituary:

Simon Rodia, 90, Italian-born tile setter who built the controversial Watts Towers here to express his appreciation for his adopted country, died Saturday (July 17) in Martinez, Calif…

Mr. Rodia built the three towers of steel, cement, bottles and shells over a 33-year period.

In 1959 the towers, the tallest of which is 104 feet high, were declared unsafe by the City Building and Safety Department. But before they could be razed, art groups and others seeking to preserve them protested the decision and won an engineering test to check their structural strength.

The tower, erected by a man without engineering training, withstood a pull of 10,000 pounds in the test.

Mr. Rodia, reportedly embittered by the ridicule of some critics, moved to Martinez 11 years ago and never returned.

The towers have been acclaimed as an outstanding work of unschooled art. In 1963 they were designated as a cultural monument by the City Cultural Heritage Board.

A recent large grant of $500,000, reported in the Los Angeles Times, is helping to preserve the Watts Towers.

Garry Watson was working for the old Los Angeles Daily News when he took the above image. Watson later worked for the Los Angeles Times.

In 1954, the old Daily News was purchased by the Chandler family and merged with the Los Angeles Mirror. Many of the old Los Angeles Daily News negatives were included in Los Angeles Times donations to the UCLA archives.

The above portrait of Rodia was scanned from the original 4 inch by 5 inch negative and left uncropped.

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