Charles Phoenix's Slide of the Week: Helen at Watts Towers, 1959

Charles Phoenix’s Slide of the Week: Helen at Watts Towers, 1959

Helen at Watts Towers, Los Angeles, 1959
Helen at Watts Towers, 1959

Recognize Helen? Those of you who have seen my Retro Southern California Slide Show may recall her posing in front of a mint green, satin-finish shower in a sexy semi-see-thru nightie. Here she is again, this time sporting stripes, in front of my all-time, no-question-about-it favorite place in all of Southern California, the Watts Towers.

Soaring majestically nearly ten stories above the community they were named for, Watts Towers transformed a poor working class neighborhood in South Los Angeles into a world-class destination for folk art. One man, Simon Rodia, built the towers by hand in the triangle-shaped yard next to his house between 1921 and 1954. For thirty-three years, until he one day just left and never came back, he fashioned scrap steel pipes and colorful broken bits and pieces of glass and pottery, bottle caps, seashells and even bowling balls into the ultimate Jolly-Green-Giant-scale arts and crafts project. If Gaudi and Eiffel had ever worked together they may have come up something like this. I compare Simon Rodia to them.

By the time Rodia finished working on the towers, they had been discovered as Southern California’s most unusual tourist attraction. In 1959, there was some drama. The City of Los Angeles made grandiose claims that they were unstable and unsafe and would have to be demolished. Fans from far and near protested. Tests proved their durability and miraculously, they still soar today.

Just last week I was there and stood right where Helen stood nearly fifty years before. The towers are timeless. To walk among them is a magical-mystical experience of the highest order. To capture their scale and detail is impossible to do in a single image. They are unphotographable and powerful. Your imagination will be inspired and your spirit will soar!

The Watts Towers are located just 15 minutes south of Downtown Los Angeles at 1761 East 107th St. Tours begin at 11am on Fridays, 10:30 am on Saturdays and 12:30 Sundays. The last tour is at 3pm all three days. For more info call 213-847-4646.

Here’s to Helen, Simon Rodia, his towers, and YOU!

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