Watts Towers ready for their closeup at conference, if not yet a skateboard park
Scholars, activists and artists who are gathering Friday afternoon for the start of the three-day Watts Towers Common Ground Conference at UCLA and in Watts will arrive to some good news: After a contractual snag over liability and insurance issues had held up the deal, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and L.A.'s Department of Cultural Affairs have found some common ground of their own, and LACMA will become officially involved in helping to conserve Simon Rodia's folk-art masterwork, as well as pitching in with help in fund-raising for the towers and with ideas for marketing them as a cultural-tourism attraction.
Another issue that may stir some chat among conference-goers is City Councilwoman Janice Hahn's controversial proposal to plant a major skateboarding park on a strip of vacant land that begins about 40 yards from the towers. Some of the towers' most enthusiastic advocates say that although it would be great for kids in Watts to have a skate park, the government-owned land around the towers should be for culture and quiet relaxation.
The notion of putting a skate park next to the Watts Towers is "ridiculous ... it's almost offensive," said Luisa Del Giudice, the independent scholar who spearheaded the Watts Towers conference and a companion event last year at the University of Genoa in Italy.
The latest on the skate park: With a $275,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation and its Explore.com affiliate that was announced last weekend, and the efforts of skateboarding star Tony Hawk and his charitable foundation, the $350,000 needed to build the park has been raised. A Hahn spokeswoman acknowledged that siting remains an issue, but that no alternative spot is on the table; the councilwoman has said that there are no other places in Watts that meet the two requirements of a skateboarding park there -- a slice of land that is not only vacant and publicly owned, but is not claimed by any street gang. For kids not deemed acceptable by the gang-in-charge, skating on its turf would be a risky proposition for reasons unrelated to what the rider might attempt on wheels.
A spokeswoman for the city's Community Redevelopmant Agency, which owns the towers-adjacent parcel, reconfirmed that agency commissioners would have to OK its use for a skate park, a process that would include a public hearing on the proposal.
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-- Mike Boehm
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