‘I Build the Tower’ documents L.A.’s historic sights

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The Watts Towers, simple, yet stunningly innovative in their geometric configuration, have long served as an icon of multicultural unity for the people of Los Angeles.

But even more perplexing than these contrasting structures is the man who built them.

The documentary “I Build the Tower” utilizes rare footage and eyewitness accounts to bring to life the genius, and insanity of Sam Rodia, sculptor of the Watts Towers.

Edward Landler and Brad Byer, who wrote, produced and directed “I Build the Tower,” both agreed that the main obstacle in their 20 years of researching Rodia was trying to find recorded data.

“Lack of material was the one major logistical hurtle,” said Byer.

Landler added that “it’s a whole other process finding the proper materials.”

The fruits of their labor proved their worth in the end, as the documentary is one of the only true and complete accounts of how the Watts Towers came to be built and what the towers have endured in their half century of existence.

Sam Rodia was born in Campania, Italy in 1879. Though his city of birth is one of the poorest in Italy, one interviewee in the film described his family as not being as impoverished as most families in that area, because the family slept upstairs from where their mule lived. The poorest families slept with their animals in the same room.

Nonetheless, Rodia’s family moved to the United States for a better life. Much to his dismay, the new land he saw did not possess the d?cor in architecture that he was accustomed to back home.

In the film, Rodia said he had no need to come to America. Instead, he blamed his mother and father for bring him.

During the film, Rodia also said he was not a fan of the United States. He held many sentiments against class divisions and elitist supremacy throughout the world, which were constantly provoked by the booming post-war American economy.

Rodia’s anti-industrialization and anti-elitism was constantly cited, as he offered many words of advice.

He said not to blame the colored people, but instead blame the government.

The film stressed the strong feelings Rodia had against seeing a family on the sidewalk eating burgers, instead of home-cooked meals.

When he first arrived to the United States, Rodia began working as a coal miner on the East Coast. He then moved to California, where he raised a family with Lucy Rodia.

Rodia became an alcoholic and disappeared in 1910, completely abandoning his wife and three children. His daughter died shortly there after, due to spinal meningitis.

After nearly a decade of unknown activity, Rodia resurfaced in Long Beach, sober, and steadily working once again.

In 1923, he bought the triangular plot of land in early rural Watts.

It was here, in the backyard of his residence at 1765 E. 107th St. that Sam Rodia built his legendary towers.

On a comical note, the documentary points out that he had the option of buying a similarly shaped piece of real estate on what is now the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Wilshire Blvd. Today, it is owned by the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills.

However, he chose Watts. He felt that Watts was the city that best encompassed the people that he could relate to.

Over time, Rodia built up his towers, coating cement over a wire mesh and stacking the shapes atop one another, day by day.

No one is really sure why Rodia constructed the Watts Towers, though some aspects of it are highly symbolic of his past experiences.

Rodia himself seemed uncertain as to why he built the towers. In the film, he questioned why make anything?

Regardless of the enigmatic origin of their inception, the Watts Towers have long stood as what interviewee Mike Davis describes in the film as “art for have-not Los Angeles.”

One can say it’s more than a coincidence that the towers remained unscathed during the Watts riots of the 1960s, which took place just four blocks away. They have survived many attempts by the city of Los Angeles to tear them down.

“I Build the Tower” will be shown in the Armer Theatre on April 19 at 7pm. The film deals reveals much about how time has changed this vast city, and how people never forget the monuments left behind by one of their own.