Museum To Oversee Los Angeles' Watts Towers

Watts Towers, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990, one of only about 2,400 such sites in the country

Credit: Carol Highsmith/Library of Congress

"I had in mind to do something big and I did it." –Simon Rodia

Some of Los Angeles' quirkiest landmarks may get a new caretaker this summer.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has moved forward with an offer to take over the maintenance and conservation of Watts Towers, the 17 steel-and-mortar sculptures in the Watts neighborhood.

"The City came to us and said they were having budget difficulties, and we decided that we could help with what the tower needs help with most now: conservation," says Melody Kanschat, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Museum and city officials are hammering out a memorandum of understanding that will likely go into effect on July 1, Kanschat says.

Rising 100 feet high, Watts Towers were constructed by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia between 1921 and 1954. Rodia used steel rods, mortar, and everyday materials like soda bottles to fashion what he called "Nuestro Pueblo," or Our Town. The City of Los Angeles, which designated the site as a historic and cultural monument in 1963, acquired it in 1975 but transferred it to the state of California three years later. Although the site has remained a state historic park since then, the city of Los Angeles holds a 50-year lease to oversee its conservation.

The new stewardship arrangement will be "a cooperative agreement that will provide preservation services and help us analyze other aspects of our operation, such as docent training and improving access" to Watts Towers, says Olga Garay, executive director of the city's department of cultural affairs.

After the agreement is finalized this summer, Los Angeles County Art Museum conservators will analyze an existing preservation plan. "It's too soon to tell" how much it will cost to repair each crack and fallen piece of artwork, Kanschat says. Because the city's budget will allocate between $100,000 and $200,000 for the Simon Rodia State Historic Site next year, the museum will also try to raise the money necessary to repair the structures.

Both the Getty Research Institute and the California African American Museum have offered to support Watts Towers' preservation.

"This is about many organizations coming together to try to preserve this important landmark in our city," Kanschat says. "It's in a very important neighborhood in the community of Watts and represents Watts' continual renewal and resilience. And we think it's one of the treasures of Los Angeles—in fact, we think it's a national treasure."

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Submitted by Bud at: April 24, 2010
Finally it appears our Watts Towers will get proper treatment and display after 35 years! The City has really botched its chances! The city has surrounded the amazing Rodia works with ugly buildings on all sides- lucky they left gaps for us to see them! Hurry after July to really see them.

Submitted by Pat at: April 20, 2010
That is wonderful that somebody is going to oversee the towers! That is just great!