From the Archives: Simon Rodia, 90, Builder of Famed Watts Towers, Dies in Martinez

Simon Rodia seen at Watts Towers in 1951.
(Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Simon Rodia, 90, Italian-born tile setter who built the controversial Watts Towers here to express his appreciation for his adopted country, died Saturday in Martinez, Calif.

Memorial services will be conducted at the Watts Towers at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Requiem Mass will be celebrated at St. Catherine’s Church in Martinez at the same time.

Mr. Rodia built the three towers of steel, cement, bottles and shells over a 33-year period.


In 1959 the towers, the tallest of which is 104 feet high, were declared unsafe by the City Building and Safety Department. But before they could be razed, art groups and others seeking to preserve them protested the decision and won an engineering test to check their structural strength.

The towers, erected by a man without engineering training, withstood a pull of 10,000 pounds in the test.

Mr. Rodia, reportedly embittered by the ridicule of some critics, moved to Martinez 11 years ago and never returned.

The towers have been acclaimed as an outstanding work of unschooled art. In 1963 they were designated as a cultural monument by the City Cultural Heritage Board.

Memorial services here will be conducted at the towers, at 1765 E. 107th St., by the Committee for Simon Rodia Towers in Watts.

Services in Martinez will be directed by the Connally & Taylor Mortuary there.

Mr. Rodia’s only known relatives are several nieces and nephews.