Watts Towers Rehab Has Broader Relevance

For years, the Watts Towers have suffered from problems small and large: bits of decorative glass and pottery falling to the ground; cracks snaking their way through the structures and growing longer over time. A new effort aims for lasting fixes.
April 5, 2013, 8am PDT | Anna Bergren Miller | @abergrenmiller
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The Watts Towers, 17 interconnected sculptures completed by Los Angeles construction worker and artist Simon Rodia in 1954, were once the subject of a city demolition order, but are now an important cultural landmark in a struggling neighborhood.

Two years ago, Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs hired the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to maintain the sculptures. Last December, UCLA engineers joined the repair team to perform a series of structural tests.

The information gleaned from an extensive study of the Watts Towers, those involved hope, may inform preservation efforts elsewhere, reports Angel Jennings. Thanks to sensors planted on the sculptures, the UCLA team was able to verify that the towers are in constant motion, shifting with the wind and even with the time of day. This flexibility kept the Watts Towers standing during the 1994 earthquake. It also means that repairs to the structures must bear movement in mind.

“My diagnosis of the past failures is that they repaired the cracks with a very rigid material,” Frank Preusser, a conservation scientist for LACMA said. “And they used five or six materials, but they were all rigid because they were only thinking about corrosion.”

As for the relevance of the Watts Towers research to other projects, Preusser added, “We are possibly breaking ground here. There are a number of similar structures, but not that tall. They all pose the same problems, and interestingly enough, all of them are looking at us now.”

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Published on Monday, April 1, 2013 in Los Angeles Times
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