Regarding Hammers in Four Parts – Part Two – 1965 Rose Bowl Parade and Watts Towers
Beginning in the early 60’s my parents began a series of family road trips that brought us all over the country and in 1965 we drove down to Pasadena, CA for the annual Rose Bowl Parade. Literally. Let me explain: we departed Turlock, CA the night prior with sufficient time to get to Pasadena, locate the very best place to view the parade on Orange Grove Boulevard and set up an encampment on the sidewalk to assure a designated viewing space in the front row. My brother Richard and I took control of the responsibility for holding this space secure until the parade began. Mom, Dad, Michael and Jane sat out the intervening time in the car within a nearby parking lot until people began to show up and the space began to become occupied by more than just us. We had great front row seating without obstruction. The 1965 Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade had Henry L. “Hank” Aaron as the Grand Marshall and the theme of the parade was “Headlines in Flowers.” We saw it from beginning to end and it was fantastic.
Here is the clincher, when the parade was over we all got back into the car and headed home and this is what I want to say: I desperately wanted to see the Watts Towers while we were down in the LA area and made a special appeal to my parents requesting we take the time to go and see them. Providence had it in for me, because Watts was on the way home. Now, paint this picture in your head on how we appeared to the public. My father was driving this monstrosity of a “60’s green” Dodge, push button gear changing, wood side panel station wagon. Yes, we went through a good portion of Watts to get to the towers. Mind you, this was pre “Griswold Family Vacation” and their trip to Wally World. Like the Griswold’s we made it to our destination and we did our traditional slow the car down, look out the window, see what you can of what there is to see and say that you had been there.
If you do not know the story of Watts Towers, briefly then, Simon (Sabato) Rodia, (1879 – 1965), born in Rivatoli, Italy, sculpted this massive work of Assemblage art, seventeen separate pieces of sculpture, on a small, triangular property, all constructed from steel pipes and rods which he wrapped with wire mesh, coated with mortar, and embedded with pieces of porcelain, ceramic tile, broken glass, sea shells and other cast off material he found in the community, or that community members gave him. When we drove by in 1965, the property was boarded up and there were “No Trespassing” signs. The Watts Towers barely survived demolition, but today they stand as one of only nine works of folk art listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is one of only four US National Historic Landmarks in the city of Los Angeles. Simon Rodia spent 30 years (1921 to 1955) building a tribute to his adopted country and a monument to the spirit of individuals who make their dreams tangible.
Persons you do not know and who you will never meet can impact your life in ways that relate as if you had been hit by a hammer. What I saw was Art on a scale and in a manner that I had never encountered before, not that I was a world traveler or anything, and it was awe-inspiring. I am one of those assemblage artists inspired by this work of art. A vestige of the impact that the Watts Towers made on me can be found in the manner and style in which I am composing this Blog and website. It is, and will remain, a collection of found material and thoughts I make available to you and give leave to create sense of as you will.