Saving the Watts Towers by Simon Rodia in Los Angeles

In spite of being one of the most unique works of art, the Watts Towers by Simon Rodia are on The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Landslide list of threatened and at-risk landscapes and landscape features. Built by the Italian immigrant Simon Rodia between 1921 to 1955, the Watts Towers site in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles features three main towers and seven other sculptures that he constructed using salvaged steel, wire mesh, cement and a range of found and donated objects such as broken glass, seashells, generic pottery and tile, and many pieces of twentieth century American ceramics. In this video we meet up with Dr. Frank Preusser, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Conservation Center of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who provides us with an introduction to Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers: the man behind the monument, the construction of the towers and their artistic value. Specifically, he talks about the restoration and conservation efforts: the analysis, the challenges, the solutions. Finally he tells us why the Watts Towers should be preserved, what it takes to save them, and how you can help.

The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia in Los Angeles. Interview with Dr. Frank Preusser, Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Los Angeles, November 5, 2014.

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The towers are threatened by a number of factors such as the exposure to sun, wind, and earthquakes. In October 2010 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) entered into a partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs to review and assess the City’s existing conservation and preservation plans for Watts Towers, oversee the day-to-day care and maintenance of the site, and to develop a comprehensive conservation management plan, slated for completion in January 2015. The three year contract was extended for an additional year and will be up for renewal at the end of 2014.

Information from the TCLF website regarding the restoration:

LACMA is recommending immediate restoration of the three tall towers, a project estimated to take two to three years to complete depending upon available funding (it is estimated the project will cost approximately $2 million), and the degree of corrosion of the underlying armature. Funds will be used to hire and train additional staff to undertake the necessary conservation work, purchase equipment and supplies, and scaffold all three structures.

The City has appropriated $2 million from its construction budget to begin the restoration of the towers, although this funding could be directed to other projects. Beyond the three towers, additional funding will be needed to restore the remainder of the site, and pay for ongoing maintenance. Interested individuals can advocate for continued support for preservation at the city, and state levels by contacting the members of the Los Angeles City Council, and Sean Woods, Superintendent, Los Angeles Sector, California State Parks and requesting their continued support for the restoration of the Watts Towers.

Volunteers are also needed to help with the day-to-day care and maintenance of the site. For more information on how to help, contact Mark Gilberg, Suzanne D. Booth and David D. Booth Conservation Center Director at LACMA or Jeffrey Herr, Curator, Hollyhock House/Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts, Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles.

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