Watts Towers tours restricted due to repairs

Beginning Monday, public tours at the Watts Towers will be restricted until next February to enable crews to repair damage the center tower sustained during the storms of 2004-05.

The Department of Cultural Affairs had applied for federal FEMA funds after the storms but the claim was initially denied. The city received $569,000 in March which will fund the repairs and special scaffolding that will enclose the tower, which is just under 100 feet tall. “It’s expensive to put up scaffolding that can’t lean against a structure,” said Virginia Kazor, historic curator for the Department of Cultural Affairs.

This isn’t the first time the Towers -- pieced together by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia between 1921 and 1955 -- have endured damage and public restrictions. Most recently the L.A. landmark was shuttered from 1994 to 2002 for a $1.9-million seismic retrofit after the Northridge earthquake.

“Every disaster shows us our weakest point,” Kazor said. “The rain and the wind causes cracks to open up. The day after the rain stops you can see exactly what the problem is.” It’s been difficult to assess the extent of the damage because crews haven’t been able to examine the uppermost reaches of the tower. At this point, Kazor said, “We’ve been looking through very powerful binoculars. If there is damage beneath the decorative layer, it will be carefully removed and the steel replaced.”

The crews are city employees trained by the conservator to work on the project.

During repairs the grounds will be open, as will the Watts Towers Arts Center, and perimeter tours will be offered, although for liability reasons visitors won’t be able to venture beyond the security fencing. And the new, adjacent Charles Mingus Youth Art Center is set to open this summer. The last tours behind the security fencing are on Sunday. Information: (213) 847-4646.


Lynell George