Over a 34-year period between 1921 and 1955, an Italian immigrant by the name of Sabato (also known as Sam or Simon) Rodia (also spelled Rodilla) built out a series of 17 cement and metal sculptures that he titled “Nuestro Pueblo,” or our town in Spanish.
The towers are constructed of steer rebar, wrapped in wire mesh, and layered with poured concrete. Embedded in the cement are a variety of ceramic shards, bottles, tiles, shells and other found objects. Visitors are likely to find all local California potteries represented. The largest of the towers is almost 100 feet tall.
Nuestro Pueblo: Glass Towers and Demon Rum
By Joe Seewerker and Charles Owens, April 28, 1939, The Los Angeles Times
Simon Rodilla is a jolly old fellow. One those happy hombres who could find something to laugh at in a broken leg. But it was not always so with Simon. There was a time, almost 20 years ago, when Simon got tangled up in the rum pots. My, he was mired deep.
“I was dronk all th’ time,” Simon says with engaging frankness. “Hangovers. Whosh. Boy, all th’ time I hav hangovers. My head, it was like what you call it, a lard bucket?”
Simon’s hangover days are all over now. Have been over for more than 17 years.
“One day, I started building a fence ‘round my place with tile,” Simon says. Simon, incidentally is a tile setter and a bachelor. “I find that’s lots of fon an’ I build the fence so much, I forget to drink. I no kid you, honest.”
Anyway, Simon continued to forget to drink and progressed from the tile fence to soaring towers, made of bottles, glass, tile and what have you. Today he has three huge towers and a flock of baby ones in the yard of his home at 1765 East 107th Street, Watts.
They are a sight to behold. Their colorings have all the brilliance of a peacock’s feathers and they can be seen for miles. Some persons say the towers look like something built by a man with a hangover.
But that is cruel. They simply express the longings of an otherwise inarticulate tile setter. Simone denies that the bottles in his towers are empties left from his hangover days.
“Ha, ha, what you think?” he says happily. “One time I have bottles all over th’ house. Now I get bottles for th’ towers from other peoples wat drink. Fonny, eh?”
Rodia abandoned the property in 1955, never to return. He passed away in 1965. Shortly after his departure, a fire destroyed his bungalow within the enclosure, and the City of Los Angeles began proceedings to demolish the property.
The towers reside on a residential lot in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles. Watts is located in South Los Angeles, and was incorporated into the city of Los Angeles in 1926. In the late 1800s, the community became a farming settlement popular with European immigrants. With the arrival of the railroads in early 1900s, the area demographic shifted to working class Mexican Americans who came to work on the railroads. Area preservationists purchased the property in the late 1950s, and after having city engineers evaluate the safety of the structures, were allowed to save them. The towers were independently preserved through the 1970s until guardianship was transferred to the city and state.
Watts Towers, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990, is now owned by the State of California and managed by the City of Los Angeles. Visitor information at California Parks.
1765 East 107th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90002-3621