the Watts Towers Arts Center




How One Woman’s Punishment for Putting Up a Mural Has Exposed a Deep, Bitter Divide in the Los Angeles Art Community >>

Save the date image.jpg

For Immediate Release: Contact: Edward Landler (323) 225-5955
March 16, 2021 for the Friends of the Watts Towers Arts Center
and the Watts Towers Community Action Council


Under the pretext of enacting California’s “transit-oriented community” directive, the Los Angeles City Council allowed critically important public land to be sold off for private development and quietly fast-tracked approval of five- and six-story “affordable” housing projects that literally and visually will split the Watts community in two.

Among the projects that will further inflate the community’s already 136% population density is a five-story development along the Metrolink tracks (once the Pacific Electric Railway’s “Red Car Line” and a spur of the Southern Pacific Railroad). It will wipe out the view from the tracks of the world-famous masterpiece of “outsider art”, the Watts Towers – both a National Historic Landmark and a California State Park – and alter and dwarf the 103rd Street Watts Train Station, built in 1904 and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Called the “Hub” in the 1920s, this visible link between Towers and Station – a bare 10-acre crescent-shaped area – is the geographic center of Watts. Since the ‘60s, residents and visitors have called for this open space to be a green park for the diverse and underserved community. Betraying the long-held desire for green space in the center of Watts, the city government has distanced its residents from the process of protecting and enhancing Watts’ history and culture.

If built, the planned housing will choke off access between and to the community’s only two official historic preservation sites. It will also spoil the appreciation of a monumental work of architectural sculpture, Watts’ only major tourist destination, and undermine the State of California’s nomination of the Watts Towers as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Towers were created single-handedly over 30 years by Italian immigrant Sabato “Simon” Rodia – he called them Nuestro Pueblo, “Our Town”. When Rodia started building in 1921, he wanted the view from the tracks to display his envisioned 100-foot tall mosaic-covered spires rising over their environment, greeting neighbors and visitors, now as it has for over 80 years. In 1959, they were brought to the world’s attention as a work of engineering and artistic genius when the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts saved them from an official City demolition order.

During the 1965 Watts Uprising, the Towers were protected by a community that adopted them as their beacon of freedom, their own “Statue of Liberty”. In 1985, activist Lillian Mobley founded the Watts Towers Community Action Council (WTCAC) to oversee the development of the bare space linking Towers and Station through its Watts Cultural Crescent Project. Attracting wide-spread community involvement with well-publicized and well-attended presentations and discussion groups, the WTCAC presented to the City in 1994 its Cultural Crescent Master Plan with designs for a cultural green park. The City never created the park, but some Plan features were later installed in unsuitable locations on site without consulting the community.

After the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency was dissolved in 2012, the property along the tracks was transferred to the County of Los Angeles with the stipulation that the natural connection between Towers and Station be preserved. But, in 2018, without public knowledge, the County sold the land and the Station to the non-profit Housing Corporation of America (HCA). Only a select few in the community knew of it until June 2020, when the sale was casually noted by a City official during a Watts Neighborhood Council meeting.

Recently, on February 21, 2021, during a special Planning and Land Use Committee meeting of the Watts Neighborhood Council, a broad range of community residents, stakeholders and cultural organizations questioned officials of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) about the legitimacy of the process by which the City Council approved the housing developments in Watts.

Since 2018:
• The City has let HCA’s profit-making affiliate, Thomas Safran and Associates, design what will be the tallest structures in Watts – including a 96-unit 5-story housing project along the tracks by the 103rd Street Train Station;
• HACLA and the 15th District City Council office have made only partial disclosures of specific plans for this and other housing developments to various community members and stakeholders in poorly announced meetings; and
• with direct engagement limited by the pandemic, the City has failed to give adequate notification of public hearings that allowed the City Council to exempt these projects from environmental review as mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act; with the highest rate of pollution in Los Angeles, Watts has a long, well-documented history of environmental hazards, especially along its railway embankments.

These projects, including plans to tear down and replace the Watts Happening Cultural Center, built in 1970 (which housed Budd Schulberg’s Watts Writers Workshop and the Mafundi Institute), represent a process that consistently ignores legal precedent and excludes concerned community residents and stakeholders from contributing to plans that directly affect their own future. The City’s pretense of community engagement while erasing the history of communities of color aptly describes the first steps of “gentrification”.

In 1959, a local, state, national and international coalition stopped the City of Los Angeles from tearing down the Watts Towers. Today, seeking to encase the Towers in a vapid urbanized box and destroy a major cultural landscape, the City will once again become a global laughingstock.

Dear friends,

The Friends of the Watts Towers Arts Center have drafted a Letter of Support for the Watts Towers Arts Center to urge the Mayor of Los Angeles to include items proposed in the City Budget (noted in the Letter) to fund more Campus personnel.
This Letter of Support for the Watts Towers Arts Center has been posted as a petition on change.org
Please sign on to it at this link: http://chng.it/yhc9kxcGzt PLEASE send the link to everyone you believe will sign AND send it on to others who will also sign and send it.

Thank you!

Sam (Simon) Rodia, builder of the Watts Towers - a portrait.

I Build the Tower is the true story of the life and work of Sam Rodia, the Italian immigrant who built the world-famous Watts Towers on a residential lot in South Central Los Angeles. Rodia's Watts Towers, designated as a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior in 1990, are now a component site of the California State Parks, managed by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.
Edward Landler got practical production experience with Satyajit Ray in India and Luis Bunuel in France, and worked on independent feature films in the United States. His first film, "Pharaoh's Dream", an experimental short, was shot in Calcutta and Los Angeles.
He is a founder and former president of the Independent Feature Project/Los Angeles (now Film Independent), a non-profit support organization for independent filmmakers and has taught film at California State University, Northridge, Woodbury University, and U.C.L.A. Extension. He is a regular contributor to CineMontage, the magazine of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, and is currently completing a cultural history of film.

Ed Landler and Brad Byer, who is the maternal great-nephew of Sam Rodia of the Watts Towers.

Brad Byer is the maternal great-nephew of Sam Rodia, the creator of the Watts Towers. Over 20 years, Landler and Byer collaborated to make I Build the Tower. They started working together to make the film in 1983, when they shot the last filmed interview with R. Buckminster Fuller who provided a structural analysis of the Watts Towers. Since that time, their efforts to produce the definitive work on Rodia's achievement have become part of the history of the towers.
Byer died in 2012. Landler is still strongly involved with the Watts Towers and the Watts Towers Arts Center.
Q&A with director Edward Landler after the screening.

The Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West (BAD West) is a professional organization providing people of African descent working in documentary film, video or other media the opportunity to network professionally, share resources, exchange ideas and meet socially in order to enhance the development, production, promotion and exhibition of documentaries. The Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West also advocates the recognition and professional advancement of Black documentary filmmakers.

Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook

www.BADWest.org - Copyright (c) All rights reserved 2000-2010
Contact us: badwestla@gmail.com- (213) 534-6635
Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West 
14431 Ventura Blvd PMB #115
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423 

Watts Towers Arts Center & Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center

We are extremely grateful to our Support Groups for generating so much support for our Programs, Exhibitions, Events and on-going operations.

We continue to rely on the support of so many through letters, emails and word of mouth concerning the importance of our work to the Community, for the City of Los Angeles and with our international visitors.


• Huell Howser, 1945-2013 • William T. Cartwright, 1920-2013 • Cecil Fergerson 1931-2013



Sabato Rodia was born in Serino, Italy (AV) in 1879 and arrived in the United States around 1894. He came to Watts in 1921 at age 42 and was commonly known as ‘Simon’, or old ‘Sam’. The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia, his masterpiece and the world’s largest single construction created by one individual, was his obsession for 33 years. He called it, “Nuestro Pueblo” or “Our Town”. It is located in the community of Watts in South Central Los Angeles, California.

The Watts Towers structure consists of seventeen major sculptures of steel, covered with mortar and embellished by decorative finishings of mosaic tiles, glass, clay, shells, and rock. As there is no welded inner armature, Rodia wired rebars together, then wrapped the joints with wire mesh, hand packed them with mortar, and added the mosaic surface. This folk art employs assemblage construction. The property extends 42 meters (138 ft.) along 107th Street on the south, 21 meters (69 ft.) on the west and 47 meters (155 ft.) on the north of this compact 400 square meter site. There are three tall spires, several small towers, two walls, gazebo, patio, ship, and other structures.

When Rodia finished his towers in 1954, he gave them, along with the deed to his triangular shaped land (pointing eastward to Italy) to his neighbor Mr. Louis Sauceda. Mr. Sauceda sold them to Joseph Montoya for $1,000.00 six months later. Mr. Montoya decided to convert the Watts Towers into a commercial venue. But, when he went to get a building permit the City of Los Angeles placed a demolition order on the structure because Simon did not get a permit to build his masterpiece.

Along came Bill Cartwright and Nick King who purchased the Towers from Mr. Montoya for $3,000.00 in 1959. They founded The Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts and saved the Towers from demolition with a “stress” or “load” test, designed by Bud Goldstone. The Towers proved stronger than the test equipment. Therefore, the test was stopped and the Towers were deemed safe, and preservation efforts began. The Watts community considered the Watts Towers part of their heritage and called upon the new owners to also invest in the community. Thus the Watts Towers Arts Center began.

The 52-year old Watts Towers Arts Center is synonymous with the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia. It has been the guardian and curator of the Watts Towers since its inception in 1961 when Lucille Krasne taught the first classes on the foundation of the burned down home of the man himself, Sabato Rodia.

The Watts Towers Arts Center has served as a beacon of light for arts education and a conduit for social change. It continues to support and present master artists and to nurture aspiring young people. This arts education institution, which is currently the only tourist destination in Watts, continues to serve not only our local Southern California Community, but the world at large, as is evidenced by our large number of international visitors. Through its exhibitions, tours, and other programs, the WTAC has been associated with and presented more than 1000 artists in numerous disciplines including visual arts, filmmaking, writing, music, and performing arts in addition to its substantial arts educational programming. We continue in Rodia’s footsteps to re-purpose that which is discarded and set an example of what the possibilities are when we have a dream and willingness to “stick to it”.

We rely on our 92 year history (1921-2013) and world renowned artists, who came through the Watts Towers Arts Center, and continue to cultivate our long practice of cultural leadership and arts education as we preserve and document our proud heritage in Watts, California.

There is still time to see our current exhibition!

January 20, 2013—August 11, 2013 Noah Purifoy and Charles Mingus Galleries

Charles H. Tatum, Sculptor

Charles Tatum Retrospective: 1973-2008

A Look at the Influence of African Art on the

Work of an African American Sculptor

Patricia Soltys & Rosie Lee Hooks, Curators

Collaborations with David Czuba, photographer &

Dutch Schulze, glass artist

Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 10:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.

Sunday 12:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M.


Through The Eyes of Charles Dickson

August 25, 2013- March 2, 2014

Paul Von Blum and Rosie Lee Hooks, Curators



The Watts Towers Arts Center is the home of International Ethnic Instrument Collection consisting of 144 primarily non-western instruments collected from around the world. This wonderful collection was donated by Dr. Joseph Howard to the Watts Towers Arts Center in 1989.



Often we get so comfortable with those who are our foundation that we forget to single them out and say Thank You.

We take this opportunity to do just that. The Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center are a major source of support to us. Some of their funding contributions make it possible for us to:

  • Produce our Annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival

  • Underwrite Receptions for Openings of Exhibitions, Recitals, etc.

  • Provide After School Snack Program

  • Provide Supplies for Classes

  • Offer One on One Tutoring

  • Support Garden Studio AIR Program (Artist in Residence)

  • Graphic Designer for Materials to Publicize and Market our Festivals i.e., Festival Art, Mailers, Study Guides, etc.

  • And Much, Much, More


Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center Museum Store

for one of a kind art pieces

Available now

The Watts Towers 50 Years Inspiring Art Commemorative Program 1959-2009


Heart of Watts Project Watts Towers Project

Limited Edition Post Cards Limited Edition T-shirts


New Computers and Printers

Sculpture of Simon Rodia

String Bass

Photo Archivist

Replacement of lost trees

Sculpture of Charles Mingus

Mural Restoration

Upgraded Sound System

Additional Staff

Rebuild Simon Rodia’s House

Marquis for Watts Towers Arts Center & Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center

Representation of the Watts Towers in the DWP Holiday Lights at Griffith Park

Note: Yamaha C7 Grand Piano donated by Wade & Jerri Childress in honor of their aunt Jari Havlena. Thank You


For holding us up and preserving

The Watts Towers Arts Center

The Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center

And supporting continuing arts education programming

at the Watts Towers Campus


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

City of Los Angeles City Council
The Greater Watts Community
Parents and Students
Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center
Watts Towers Community Action Council
The Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts
Mayor’s Task Force
Staff of the Watts Towers Arts Center & The Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center
Artists and musicians
Local, national and international visitors to the Watts Campus
And to the thousands of others who continue to add their voices to save this essential, 52 year old Arts Education Institution and Community Arts Center!


Watts Towers Arts Center & Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center

We are extremely grateful to our Support Groups for generating so much support for our Programs, Exhibitions, Events and on-going operations.

We continue to rely on the support of so many through letters, emails and word of mouth concerning the importance of our work to the Community, for the City of Los Angeles and with our international visitors.


Nick King, 1933-2012 • Calvin Hicks, 1941-2012 • Willie R. Middlebrook, 1957-2012
Mauricio Vallejo, 1949-2012 • Norman J. “Bud” Goldstone, 1926-2012B
rad Byer, 1954-2012 • Jayne Cortez, 1934-2012 • Huell Howser, 1945-2013



2006-2017 Los Angeles
website by Lucien den Arend sculptor
photography © Lucien den Arend
lucien at denarend dot com

Enter your search terms Submit search form
web wattstowers.us