Looking for something new to do? A micro-adventure? Or perhaps you need some artistic inspiration? Head down to one of LA’s finest cultural gems, Watts Towers, for a visual treat. From the massive spiral towers resembling Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to the garden and adorable turtle pond out back, Watts Towers in South Los Angeles is a unique and fascinating outing with much to interest everyone in the family.
What is Watts Towers? It is a beautiful piece of folk art that is the result of one man’s imagination and his persistence of realizing his vision. Watts Towers, designed and built by Simon Rodia (an Italian immigrant), are a collection of 17 interconnected structures made out of rebar, glass bottles, seashells, concrete and broken ceramic tiles. Over a period of 33 years, Rodia designed and built this magnificent structure on his own without machine equipment, scaffolding or drawing board designs. One day, Rodia handed over the deed to his property and walked away, leaving all of his work behind. Neighbors fought the city to save it from being demolished. After 16 years of taking care of it themselves, the neighborhood group donated the towers and art center to the City of Los Angeles.
As you approach from afar with the towers looming over head, you might think they are made of steel, but as you get closer you see that it’s actually concrete colorfully decorated with mosaic tile. The tallest of the towers reaches just over 99 feet (30 m) high. Once inside the gated compound, you will see a beautiful boat, a gazebo with a circular bench, several bird baths and more, all intricately decorated with tiles, sea shells and even hand drawn designs.
“I had it in my mind to do something big, and I did it.”
Visitors may peer through the surrounding gates at any time, however the only way to see the inside areas of the monument is through a guided tour. Tours can be purchased at the adjacent Watts Towers Art Center. The tour is short with guides who are well versed on the history of the Towers. On the tour, you will also get a glimpse of the process of restoring and preserving parts of the structure that are disintegrating due to weather. The Towers are surrounded by a lovely park, with a small set of stair seats behind so you can hang out and take it all in. Bring a picnic and some art supplies for little artists to sketch out their experiences here.
While waiting for your tour, take some time to check out the Watts Towers Arts Center, which has a small gallery of modern pieces as well as a delightful 10 minute documentary on Simon Rodia and his work on the Towers. Be aware, some of the art work displayed are very powerful presentations reflecting recent and ongoing responses to police murders of unarmed black citizens. Nothing graphic, however, it could spur on conversations about police brutality, riots and civil rights. If these are areas you are not quite ready to discuss with your child, you might give the gallery a pass.
Finishing up with the Art Center and Towers, take a stroll to the back of the building to visit the Garden Studio with a turtle pond and two newly donated African land tortoises cruising around. Inside the Garden Studio, you will witness busy artists cutting up materials and creating designs for new mosaics around the center. The volunteers here are lovely and will answer any questions you have.
Don’t forget to check out the houses across the street from the Art Center and Towers. With assistance from the Arts Center artists are creating colorful mosaics on the bungalows across the street. With time and funding they will be so cool! The few houses completed have beautiful mosaics that tie them into the Towers beautifully. There is also a pretty cool looking black and white house on the end that is worth a peek.
A visit to the Towers can provide great inspiration for your little ones to create their own recycled material art projects. If you need supplies, head over to nearby Trash for Teaching (on Wednesday, Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon) for recycled materials to start your masterpiece. On Sunday afternoons stick around the warehouse to create your projects in-studio for a minimal donation. Otherwise, head home and check out your recycle bin, discarded goods, as well as rock and shell collections to see what you can create!
Address: 1727 East 107th Street, Los Angeles
Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 10-4pm, closed Monday and Tuesday and all holidays
Tours: Every half hour Thursday to Saturday 10:30 – 3:00pm, Sunday 12:30 – 3:00pm
Price: $7 adults, 13-17 yr old $3, 12 and under free
Parking: Free street parking or park in the lot behind the building.
What to Bring: Hat, sunscreen, artist materials and picnic lunch
Is it dangerous?: This is a top question potential visitors ask. No, it is not dangerous to visit Watts Towers. If you read reviews, you will probably be nervous about visiting because it is somewhat close to gang central. However, the actual neighborhood of Watts is not gang territory. Watts is also known as the neighborhood where one of the worst race riots in the US took place almost 50 years ago. Today, the neighborhood feels like it is on the up swing with well manicured lawns and quiet residential streets. You won’t find random people loitering around, just hard working families looking to make it through each day. So don’t worry, you won’t find yourself on the front lines of a gang war.
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