SPOTLIGHT ON L.A.: Watts Towers celebrates 100 years this weekend

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

For 100 years, the Watts Towers have stood as a symbol of pride, hope, determination and survival for an under-resourced community that has seen its share of adversity over the years.

In honor of the historic 100th anniversary and all that it represents to the community, the grand art installation is being honored Sept. 24-25 by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center in what can only be described as a monumental celebration.

In addition to the towers, the occasion is being celebrated by the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Community Arts Division with numerous events honoring the 100-year history of the Watts Towers, the 40th anniversary of the Day of the Drum Sept. 24 and the 45th annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival Sept. 25. It is also the 60th anniversary of the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus.

“The Watts Towers Arts Center Campus originated from the creative inspiration of Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant from Serino, Italy who started building his towers in 1921,” said Daniel Tarica, interim general manager of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “The Watts Towers originally named ‘Nuestro Pueblo’ or ‘Our Town,’ celebrates 100 years of his sculptural masterpiece and the world’s largest single construction created by one individual over a period of 33 years.

“The Watts Towers Arts Center Campus serves as a beacon for creativity, empowerment and determination. We invite everyone to join in the celebration of this historic moment.”

It took Rodia 35 years to build the Watts Towers with nothing but his hands and a few simple tools. It is mostly made of steel rebar, wire mesh, concrete and whatever else he could get his hands on.

Now, the towers are 100 years old and have inspired an entire artistic community in the underserved neighborhood.

Today, the towers are protected as a state park and under conservation through a city contract with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Love emanates from those towers,” said Rosie Lee Hooks, director of the community arts division of the Watts Towers Arts Center. “For many, it’s a refuge. This is the first time in two years that we’ve been able to celebrate.”

The Watts Towers Arts Center operates a gallery, a garden art studio and arts classes for youth and adults. Every September, in non-pandemic years, the center co-hosts a jazz festival and Day of the Drum festivals.

“We are thrilled to invite everyone to gather again in person to celebrate our centennial anniversary at the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus,” said Hooks, who is also the artistic director of the festivals, along with musicians Patrice Rushen and Munyungo Jackson.

“We look forward to welcoming friends — familiar and new — to enjoy activities and programs for everyone throughout the campus. The Watts Towers Arts Center Campus has provided thousands of young people and their families with creative inspiration and opportunities to develop their skills in museum and arts education.”

An all-star line-up of international recording artists, local jazz greats, percussionists and dancers are slated to perform from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., over the two-day soiree.

On Sept. 24, the Day of the Drum Festival will be held. The event, hosted by masters of ceremonies James Janisse and Torrence Brandon Reese, will kick off with Xochipilli, Aztec traditional dancing featuring Huehuetl and Teponaxtle drums. 1+1 Duo will carry the sound of world percussion from the Middle East and then hand off the rhythms to TaikoProject, one of Los Angeles’s leading taiko groups.

La Bamba Collective will perform an Afro-Puerto Rican ensemble, bringing culture through Puerto Rican drums and dance. A tribute to “the Hit Maker,” James Gadson, will feature Munyungo Jackson, Clayton Cameron, Ronald Bruner Sr., Kenny Sara and Kenny Elliot with Sherwood Sledge and Lynne Fiddmont, celebrating an artist who, “…recorded more hits than any drummer in town.”

The program also will include Kouman Kele West African Dance Company, which will present a traditional West African Musical Experience.

Janisse and Reese will return for the Jazz Festival Sept. 25, which will begin with a Yoruba ground blessing by Alaadun to unite all cultures. Watts Willowbrook Strings will provide musical performances followed by an artful blend of Italian jazz and West Coast soul performances by Jasmine Tommaso. Dr. Hoover will offer a demonstration of Tai Chi Chuan.

Additional live musical performances will include Windy Barnes and the Influentials, the JMP All-Stars featuring Patrice Rushen, Munyungo Jackson, and others. The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra will perform and close out the festival.

The festivals’ activities are complemented by exhibitions at the Noah Purifoy and Charles Mingus Galleries including, “I Wanted To Do Something Big,” an exhibition from the archives recording the building, conservation, and preservation of the Watts Towers; and an installation of musical instruments from around the world at the Dr. Joseph and Bootsie Howard Gallery.

The festivals also will feature a drum pavilion and universal drum circle led by Matt Gibson III. Supervised children’s activities will take place from noon to 4:30 p.m.

Food and beverages, along with arts and crafts, will be available for sale throughout the day.

Guided tours of Nuestro Pueblo, and the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia, will be available in addition to tiling and gardening activities at the Garden Studio Gallery.

All of the events are free and open to the public.

The festivals will take place at the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus at 1727 E. 107th St.

For more information, call 213-847-4646, or visit wattstowers.org or culturela.org.

“Spotlight on L.A.” is a feature profiling little known places within the city. To propose a location for “Spotlight on L.A.,” send an email to dwanlass@wavepublication.com.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

 

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