By Levi Clancy for לוי on
Watts is a sun-baked grid of apartments and California bungalows.
Tourists usually come only for the Watts Towers. The stores are mostly big chains. But there are joys, like a woman enrolling voters on a street corner, or a shop owned by a Black Muslim family. It is most busy and fun during weekdays. There is some excellent street art. Watts is feared, but it also is a place where beautiful lives are led by wonderful people.
The Watts Towers were built from 1921-1954 by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia, who named them Nuestro Pueblo.
Rodia was born to a farming family on February 12th 1879 in Ribottoli, Italy. By day he worked on construction sites as a cement worker and tile setter. As a boy, Rodia likely visited the Gigli Festival in nearby Nola, which is thought to have inspired the Watts Towers.
Held in Nola since the late middle ages, the annual Gigli Festival celebrated the return of a locally adored bishop after his travels. A stylized boat is part of the Festival, representing the one that brought the bishop back to his people. Also, craft guilds built towers that were carried on the shoulders of village men. The towers were tall, pointed and made of wooden rings covered with paper. The Gigli Festival artwork so closely resembles Nuestro Pueblo that it is believed to have been Rodia's chief inspiration.
Rodia used flying buttresses and circular rungs to create strong structures, and pique assiette mosaic to decorate the Towers.
Rodia began each tower by digging a shallow trench, filling it with concrete and embedding four upright metal columns. These were supported by flying buttresses. He then covered them with wire mesh and cement mortar. He used much recycled material. As the towers grew, Rodia added circular rungs encircling each set of support beams. He made strong joints using wire mesh and mortar. As each rung dried, he used it like a ladder to stand on and build the next rung, each one getting smaller until reaching the top.