Monday, March 1, 2010

"Simon Rodia, Creator of The Watts Towers" from Edcon Publishing.

Watts Towers in Wikipedia
Sam Rodia in Wikipedia
The Story of Sam Rodia, Audio File:

A place you will read about:
Watts - A section in the city of Los Angeles in California
Someone you will read about: Sam Rodia - an Italian immigrant

When Sam Rodia built the Watts Towers, he built them with more than cement and tile. He put in his heart and soul.

Carlos gathered the seven-up bottles, wine bottles and broken pottery and dropped them into a burlap bag. "Are you going to see the creations of the crazy old man again?" asked his mother.

Like many of the residents in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Carlos's mother couldn't understand why old Simon Rodia, or Sam, as everyone called him, wandered through the shabby alleys collecting broken bottles, dishes and bathroom tiles from trash cans. Sometimes the Italian immigrant, who had come to America at the age of ten, walked the twenty miles to Long Beach to collect seashells.

He worked for eight hours every day as a tile setter, then worked for eight hours more in his backyard building cement towers, fountains, birdbaths, benches, and even a replica of a ship, whose mast formed a tower. These cement creations were decorated with mosaics made of broken bottles, tiles, dishes and shells. The garden was surrounded by a cement fence which had been built by Sam and decorated with red, blue and green tiles. On the gate of the wall was Sam's name for his garden, "Nuestro Pueblo" which is Spanish for "Our Town" or "Our People." Sam had also printed his initials into the cement: S.R.

Sam was building his fifth tower now, and Carlos liked to bring him bags of trash. Who else could create a fairyland from household discards? He would watch as old Sam pressed the handle of a water faucet into the wet cement, and the faucet formed a rose. Under the rose design, Sam worked with his simple tools: a hammer, file, a pair of pliers and a
screwdriver. Carlos knew that Sam was specia. He could find beauty in the everyday objects that people discarded.

Carlos watched as the old man climbed to the top of a tower with a bucket of cement, a bag of tiles, and a string of lights so that he could work in the dark.

"Why do you work so hard on these towers, Sam? You've worked for over thirty years and you've never received any compensation."

"I don't work for compensation, Carlos. A man has to be very good or very bad to be remembered. Some of the people think that I am crazy, but others say,'He's going to do something', and I am going to do something," Sam told him.

Not only was Sam a talented man, but he was a dedicated one. He tried to offer the town beauty, a new "monument," that they could be proud of, but they did not appreciate it.

"How many bags of cement do you think you've used in your garden, Sam?" asked Carlos.

"Oh, about 7,000 sacks, I think," replied Sam. "And over 70,000 seashells."

Carlos loved to sit on the decorated bench under the mosaic arch in Sam's garden and observe the birdbath covered with Seven Up bottles, the replica of a sailing ship, and the lacy spires of the towers. The tallest of the towers was ringed by spokes and circles which seemed like spider webs to Carlos. Inside the walls of this fantastic garden, he could forget the dreary alleys of Watts, the poverty, the blaring radios and the roaring trains. Sometimes, in the evening, Carlos would climb
the spires of the tower and look beyond the shabby streets of Watts to the glittering lights of the city. He could see the rest of the "world" from his perch, and more than that, he could see his future.

Not all the neighborhood children appreciated Sam's creations as Carlos did, however. When Sam was away collecting shells or bottles, they would deface the garden walls, and would throw rocks at the towers, breaking plates and tiles. When old Sam climbed the spires of his towers they would even throw rocks at him, and Carlos noticed that Sam grew wearier every time he visited the garden.

One day, Carlos had collected a bag of broken pottery and tiles to cheer the old man, but when he opened the gate, he found the garden empty and the door of Sam's cottage open. Simon Rodia had abandoned his creation, at the age of 79. He had decided to discontinue his work on his beloved towers. No one in the neighborhood knew where the old man had gone. Some said he returned to Italy, but others said he had gone away to die.
Five years passed and Carlos often walked by the towers on his way to high school. It saddened him to see how the neighborhood children had defaced the beautiful walls. He was glad that old Sam was not there to see it.

Carlos noticed an inspector from the building department of the city of Los Angeles nailing a sign on the towers.

"These towers will have to come down," the inspector said. "They are unsafe. The Italian immigrant who built them had no education. He didn't have the knowledge to build towers that are structurally sound."

Artists around the country read of the city's decision to tear down the towers. The Los Angeles Art Department called the towers a distinguished work of art. The director of a New York museum visited the towers and pronounced them a unique example of folk art. Artists protested to the city and formed a committee to save the towers.

The city building department had agreed to a safety test: if the tallest tower could withstand ten thousand pounds of pull, they would leave the towers intact. As television crews and spectators gathered around the garden on 107th Street on the morning of the test, Carlos was among them. He watched as the Watts Towers committee erected a sign reading, "The Watts Towers belong to the people of Los Angeles," while next to it, a city official nailed a sign reading, "Unsafe."

The reactions of the spectators varied. Some thought the towers should be preserved while others laughed and waited to see the towers collapse.
The man beside Carlos grumbled, "The towers of that crazy old immigrant can't possibly remain intact."

Carlos disagreed, "I watched old Sam erect these towers. He used steel rods, strengthened with wire and covered them with cement. They won't fall," he predicted.

Carlos knew that the towers had been built to last. He knew that they had not been damaged by the daily thunder of trains or even the earthquake of 1933. Sam Rodia did not have an engineering degree, but he knew how to build. Carlos watched breathlessly as the official attached the cable to the tower. The truck pulled, as he announced, "30% load ... everybody back ... 40% load clear the area ... 100% load ... 10,000 pounds."

The giant beam supporting the cable began to bend after one minute of pressure, and only one shell fell from the tower. The crowd laughed then cheered as the cable snapped. The city discontinued the test. The towers built by the uneducated Italian immigrant stood intact. Carlos grinned as the city inspector removed the unsafe sign.

No one really knows why Sam Rodia left his towers. Perhaps it would have been some compensation for Sam to know that a committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts repaired the tiles which had been defaced by the children and opened the Sam Rodia Art Center in a house near the towers, where children attend free art and music classes. Sam was finally located by a committee member, living in a tiny room in northern California.

When asked if he would like to return to Watts to visit the towers, he replied, "Dear young lady, I am too old. I broke my heart there," and Sam never saw his towers again.

Comprehension Check: Choose the best answer.

1. Sam Rodia built the towers because he __________________
a. wanted to be remembered.
b. wanted to become an engineer.
c. was a bitter, lonely man.
d. wanted to help people.

2. Sam Rodia's towers were going to be torn down because ______________
a. the city officials thought they were not structurally sound.
b. Sam was an Italian immigrant.
c. the neighbors complained about them.
d. they were truly unsafe and falling down.

3. Carlos ________________________
a. was destructive and nasty.
b. liked to tease Sam Rodia.
c. took advantage of the builder.
d. was sensitive and helpful.

4. According to the selection, which of the following was not used to build Sam's towers?
a. Shells and pottery
b. Cement and broken bottles
c. Paste and sponges
d. Wire and steel

5.The people of the Watts community ________________________
a. always took a great deal of interest in the
b. did not want to give Sam any satisfaction.
c. knew the value of the towers immediately.
d. were slow to realize what Sam had contributed.

6. Sam named his garden _________________________
a. "Our People."
b. "Our Courtyard."
c. "Simon's City."
d. "Watts Towers."

7. First, Sam abandoned his towers and moved away. Then, the building department posted an "unsafe" sign on them. Next,_______________________
a. the city decided to test the towers.
b. the L.A. Art Department protested.
c. the city decided to tear down the towers.
d. the neighborhood people got involved.

8. Simon's garden _______________________
a. served no purpose.
b. was a true contribution.
c. was similar to one in Italy.
d. was always appreciated.

9. Another name for this selection could be ______________________
a. "Towers For Sale."
b. "A Crazy Old Man."
c. "A Builder of Dreams."
d. "Life in Watts."

10. This selection is mainly about ____________________
a. a man who loved to build towers for his friends.
b. a man with talent that came from his heart and his hands.
c. a set of towers that have served as an inspiration.
d. a young boy and his relationship with a famous builder.

Beautiful Images of Sam Rodia's Work. Click on the photograph to
advance the slide show:
Watts Towers Slide Show
Sam Rodia in 1957, Youtube
Watts Towers and Los Angeles in 1957, Youtube
Watts Towers and Enrico Caruso, Youtube
Watts Towers and The Getty Museum, Youtube

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