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Scholars, artists gather to assess legacy of Watts Towers

October 23, 2010 |  7:55 pm

Watts Towers

Simon Rodia was known as a man of one remarkable action — building the Watts Towers by himself over 34 years — and very few public words.

When the Italian immigrant stone mason, whose real name is Sabato Rodia, was first interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 1939, communication went so poorly that he made his debut in these pages in an article that began "Simon Rodilla is a jolly old fellow."

It took 20 years for The Times to correct the last name of a man now regarded as one of the great folk artists of the last century. "Simon" somehow stuck, and it's as Simon that he has gone down in history as creator of the Watts Towers — three main spires of steel and concrete that reach a fraction under 100 feet high, as well as other smaller spires and sculptural elements.

Sabato/Simon's parsimony with words should be well compensated for over the coming weekend. The city he left in 1955 is hosting a three-day academic and artistic conference about the towers that will take place at UCLA and in Watts. The Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative will bring scholars, artists, activists and government officials together for discussions and presentations about the history, present condition, future prospects and social and artistic significance of what Rodia did in his spare time from 1921 to 1954.

Read more: "History, future in focus at Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative."

Additional  coverage at Culture Monster, The Times' arts and culture blog.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: The Watts Towers in 2003. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times