For more than 30 years, a man who stood scarcely five feet tall built a kind of skyscraper in his back yard. The Watts Towers is a soaring cluster of edifices, a supreme example of outsider art. The tallest of them stands nearly a hundred feet high, fanciful pieces of tile and glass and china and seashells covering a steel framework that has proven to be surprisingly durable. The city had condemned the towers to demolition, but when they passed a stress test one Sunday morning in 1959, a crowd of several hundred people began cheering – and the city inspector tore down the “condemned” sign and declared that now he was on the Towers’ side.
They are treasures, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and as a national historic landmark, but they are also nearly 90 years old in places, and heat and moisture can take a toll. So UCLA and LACMA experts are working to stabilize them so that they will last into the next century. The unlikely spires of Watts – have a listen.