Perhaps you know of Gaudí – the wild man of Barcelona whose incredible tiled mosaics are some of the most famous attractions in Spain.
Well, here in LALA land, we have our own Gaudí from the Hood. Sabato from South Central, who single-handedly built the amazing Watts Towers.
Yup, single-handedly. As in, all by himself. Sabato Rodia (aka Sam) was an Italian immigrant construction worker who showed up in Watts in 1920. He bought a little residential plot and started building sculptures on it, using junk he collected from the train tracks: steel rods, bed frames, colored glass, and old ceramic tiles.
As the towers got higher, his neighbors wondered what the hell Sam was doing. More than a few didn’t like it, so they gave their kids permission to vandalize it. But Sam would repair the damage and keep working, always alone, using only his hand tools and window washer’s equipment.
In 1955, almost 35 years after he’d started, Sam finally set down his tools and took a look around. His little plot was now filled with ships, domes, walkways, bridges, and towers… two of which were close to 100 feet tall. Sam himself was 75 years old, and as he surveyed his life’s work, he said simply, “I wanted to do something big, and I did it.”
Today, the Watts Towers are a living testament to one man’s personal vision, creativity, positivity, inspiration and just mind-blowing cool. They’ve been designated a National Historic Landmark, but they’re also a living, breathing part of the neighborhood. There’s a cultural center where local artists show their work, and a studio space for kids to take art classes.
Yes they’re in Watts, aka The Hood, but visiting is well worth the trip. It’s $7 for a guided tour through the towers –– bupkis for a spiritual awakening, people! –– and I promise you’ll leave feeling inspired, alive, and more than a little mind-blown that one man created this entire thing.
My only regret is that I’ll never be able to have Sam over for a barbecue and just talk to him, and perhaps catch a glimpse of whatever was going on inside the windmills of his mind…