Watts Towers / Nuestro Pueblo (Part 2)

Public Art in Public Places


Nuestro Pueblo
The common name of Watts Towers is an unfortunate misnomer from early 1950s efforts to identify the visible towers, with no reference to the eclectic splendor of artwork at their base or to the proper name in mosaic tile.  Rodia chose the term "Nuestro Pueblo" - Spanish for "Our Village" or "Our Place" - to describe his work and the place he created, and to welcome informal gatherings and even wedding ceremonies. 
Always Open
Unlike the roofed entrance to Rodia's front door, the Nuestro Pueblo entrance leads to seating areas, the gazebo, ceremonial steps, and individual sculptural features.  Rodia inscribed his starting dates (1921, 1923) but no completion dates, suggesting that he considered "Nuestro Pueblo" his lifelong endeavor.
The Gazebo
The social focal point of Nuestro Pueblo is the 30-foot diameter gazebo.  Its arched entrance welcomes visitors with Rodia's signature heart image, and the circular seating surrounds a center sculpture.  Adjacent to the gazebo is an outdoor fireplace for heating.

Sculptural spire at the center of the gazebo

Circular seating inside the gazebo structure

Rodia's heart images are found throughout the site.

Adjacent to the gazebo is this outdoor fireplace/heater with 14-foot high chimney. Its high temperatures may explain the notable lack of exterior mosaic ornament.

Wedding Ceremonies
Rodia both designed and "programmed" the site for weddings. Couples would enter Nuestro Pueblo through separate doors on the north side of the site and make their way to the ceremonial wedding steps and platform (shown at right).  They would then descend and exit together through the single Nuestro Pueblo archway to the street, symbolically reflecting the beginning of their new life together.

Rodia's Wedding Cake sculpture and fountain was designed with water cascading down the tiers and draining to the street.

This close-up view shows the variety of ceramic and pottery fragments.

The Work of a Lifetime
By 1954 Rodia was 75 years old and facing municipal permit requirements, periodic vandalism, and fatigue.  Selling the property to a neighbor, he left Nuestro Pueblo and moved hundreds of miles away long before the successful stress tests on the towers in 1959.

As the artist signing his masterpiece, Rodia placed his initials throughout the site.

Rodia's initials "S" and "R" are shown here in blue and purple tile on both sides of the mosaic panel above his house entrance.

Rodia's Legacy
Rodia died ten years later, and it is not known whether he ever returned to Nuestro Pueblo.  The spirit of his work, however, has infused the Watts community with an enduring appreciation of his achievement, of the arts, and of local culture.  

These two mosaic panels at the entrance to the nearby Watts Towers Arts Center were created by the Center's artists and students in tribute to Rodia, incorporating pieces fallen from Nuestro Pueblo structures.

Nearby neighbors also pay tribute to Rodia's mosaic work with sidewalk-facing mosaics sponsored by Watts Towers Arts Center artists.

The Watts Towers have received the distinction they deserve: they are Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument #15 (1963), are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1977), are designated a National Historic Landmark (1990), and are encompassed by the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park.  Rodia himself received popular acclaim with two documentary films and numerous radio, television and music tributes. Notably, he was included in the group of on-lookers on the Beatles' famous 1967 Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, which is oddly fitting, considering that the only design image consistently repeated throughout the site -- on tower sails, archways, spires, and countless mosaics -- is Rodia's heart.  
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