Recently, while cleaning out some boxes from our storage area, i came across an old picture of our visit to the Watts Towers in about 1986. We had recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, out here temporarily due to Jimmie’s gig in a touring production of “The Iceman Cometh” at the Huntington Theatre (later James A. Doolittle Theatre, and currently The Ricardo Montelban Theatre). We were staying at the Magic Hotel in Hollywood, on Franklin Avenue, at the base of the Magic Castle. Our hotel room was more of a suite, with a bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen, with not much more than a hot plate and a microwave. I remember the sofa bed retracted into the kitchen right where the oven would have been. The hotel took dogs, which was critical for us, as we had brought Jasper, the smartest dog in the universe, with us to L.A. There was a seedy park across Franklin from the hotel where we would walk him throughout the day, and we took night walks up Odin St., which ran behind the hotel into the hills, and where we frequently spotted the shining eyes of coyotes late at night.
In the picture, Jimmie and I were leaning up against Simon Rodia’s epic exterior wall, smiling at the photographer, while our dog, Jasper, tongue lolling, looked off to the right. Casually dressed, Jimmie wore jeans and his Tail o’ The Pup t-shirt covered by a bluejean jacket. I had rather unflattering front-pleated khakis on and a long sleeved pink T-shirt. The jewel tones of our shirts echoed the vibrant colors of the broken tiles in the walls behind us. I really wish I could remember who took the picture, because we were looking so fondly and a bit shyly at them. The towers were completely unprotected at that time, no fence, no entrance tickets, no tour guide. We were left more or less to our own devices to wander through the structure and relish the detail of this artist’s mad and spectacular life’s work.
Today, about 28 years later, I returned to the Watt’s Towers. After many years of being closed to the public due to fears about their seismic safety, they are still in the process of being restored; the whimsy and passion of the work is so powerful. Jimmie didn’t come with us today. I was invited by a friend who was introducing a new member to the Trojan Family to some of LA’s splendors. I tagged along, and was so glad that I did. Over the course of thirty years, Simon Rodia, whose life had early on taken a somewhat tragic spin, regained control of his circumstances and sought to execute this tribute to his Italian roots. He scouted the location, in 1921, of this small lot bordered on the one side by the Red Line Trolley tracks, and on the other by a working class neighborhood. Over the next thirty years, he used stones and metal and broken shards of pottery and tiles to construct what they called today, the largest personal sculpture in the world. And it is spectacular. I asked my friend to take a picture of me by the wall, but I will make another trip back with Jimmie to take an analogous picture to the one we took almost thirty years ago.