Art Preserved in Los Angeles

(This is the fourth episode in Leslie’s fascinating “return to LA” saga. To track down the other stories SEARCH (top right) Leslie Clague. )

Steeped in culture: Mirandi Babitz

By Leslie Clague

DSCN1520 watts towers 2The most moving experience for me in my recent trip to Los Angles was visiting the Watts Towers, located in Watts, home of the Watts Riots, in south central L.A.

I went with my friend Mirandi Babitz, a junior high and high school soul mate, who has lived a very extraordinary life. When I first knew Mirandi her name was Miriam. She was the younger daughter of Sol and Mae Babitz. Sol was a world renowned expert on Bach and Baroque music; Mae was an intricate pen, ink and paint artist. A major memory is meeting Igor Stravinsky, Mirandi’s godfather, at a summer barbeque on their front lawn.

Mirandi spent the last years of high school in Europe. She came home to develop into a boutique designer for the great rock n’ roll era, creating costumes for the likes of Linda Ronstadt, George Harrison, The Eagles and lots more.

She had a LA breweries, married a British rocker, got divorced, and then worked on concert promotions in Alaska and L.A. She was part of the team creating the closing ceremony production for the 1984 World Olympics held in Los Angeles.

The Watts Towers

DSCN1513 watts towers close-upBy her late 30’s there was a burn-out. Mirandi left the industry, went to university and is now a practicing psychologist.

It was in our early teens we shared the great experience of helping to save Watts Towers.

The towers were built by an Italian immigrant tiler named Simon Rodia. The project was started in 1920. Rodia was quoted as saying I had in my mind I’m gonna do something, something big” He was 42 years of age. He spent 34 years creating the Towers in his back yard, ending the endeavour in 1954 at the age of 75.

No one knows why, but Rodia left Watts forever in 1954. He deeded the property to his neighbour and spent his remaining years in Martinez, California, dying of a heart attack in 1965. He never saw the Towers again.

The neighbour who was gifted the Towers sold them to another neighbour for $500. That person then sold the work to an actor and film editor for $2000. They were keen to make sure the edifice was preserved and celebrated. By this time the bungalow that Rodia had lived in was burnt down by a Fourth of July fire cracker fiasco. The City of Los Angeles declared the structure unsafe and issued a demolition order.

Saving the Towers from demolition

watts towers overviewTo save the Towers, the two new owners founded the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts. Mirandi’s mother was active in the movement, selling art works featuring the Towers. Mirandi and I worked getting people to sign petitions and raise money to give the structure a stress test.

The tallest tower was subjected to a 10,000 pound pressure test in an effort to topple it. The tower passed the test and the demolition order was withdrawn. Watts Towers remains today an exquisite example of determination and creativity.

An arts centre now exists alongside the masterpiece. It provides exhibitions, the Towers’ history and guided tours.

Watts is still not considered a very safe neighbourhood to visit. It remains haunted by the riots that occurred in 1965 (interestingly the same year as Rodia’s death) and its low standard of living. Nevertheless, armed with Mirandi’s GPS empowered car, we were able to get to the Towers easily. I was moved to tears at being in their presence once again.