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Watts Towers Artist Sam Rodia Has A Direct Link To Martinez

Famed sculptor moved here in 1955 to be near family; he died here ten years later.

Here is a little historical fact I'm fond of bragging about when speaking of Martinez - John Muir died in 1914, the same year Joe DiMaggio was born here. For me, it represents the ending of one historical milestone, locally and nationally, and the beginning of another. The vigor with which Muir poured his efforts into the preservation of land in the midst of construction fever was no less amazing than Joltin' Joe's accomplishments on the playing field. 

But on Monday, I stumbled across a fact that I kind of knew, but had forgotten: the creator of the Watts Towers - Simon Rodia - visited Martinez before moving to Southern California, and then, when he finished his masterpiece 30 years later, 1955, he moved to Martinez to be near family. He died here 10 years later, on June 17, 1965. 

And looking at those towers, the result of years of effort by one man with a vision and a relentless desire, it's easy to see his attraction to this place, and it's no wonder Rodia stayed here for a decade. Because Martinez is a place made up of people like him, people who don't care so much for trends and committees and what is currently fashionable in culture, politics or business. People come here with a vision, and heart, and a belief in themselves. Many make it, some do not. But the city itself opens its doors to these dreams, and invites the dreamers in. 

While the big grocery and department stores need a demographics study to invest in a place, Martinez business owners needed a dream. And they are tenacious, hanging on and believing in their dreams in spite of the apparent "reality" all around them. 

So it was with Simon Rodia; he had no good reason to build those towers, other than his love of the dream. And he did it with very simple tools, the items he found around town, and his own two hands. Nothing more. When he moved, and his home burned down a couple of years later, the city thought it best to tear down the entire project. But by then, his work had caught the attention and affection of the neighborhood, and the towers were preserved. 

Today, they stand as a monument to the perserverance of dreams and hard work. And to the human spirit, which can perform miracles like the Watts Towers for no apparent reason other than the fact that it can be done. 

Our city stands as a monument to much the same thing - a tenacious spirit, dreams that refuse to vanish in the morning light, and the relentless drive toward what matters most to our collective humanity. We disagree, sometimes vehemently, on some central tenants of what matters most. But in the end, we all agree that this is the place we want to have that argument, and will likely remain no matter how it turns out.

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Barbara Glenn April 24, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Our Cemetery has a few famous 'ghost' in it. There is also a mountain man pioneer, among other things. Thanks for letting me add Rodia to that list.
Emily Henry (Editor) April 24, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Thanks for sharing this interesting piece of information, Jim! I will never forget what an impact the Watts Towers had on me when I visited them a week or so after moving to Los Angeles from England. I was astounded and inspired. In fact, I just dug up what I wrote about the experience, along with the pictures I took: http://adaylikethis.com/index.php/2012/04/24/archives-noahs-ark-los-angeles-sector/
Kristin Henderson April 25, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Are you saying we are a low-simmer Burning Man? Are you saying Two Day Town is really Forever Town? I like it!!!
Cheryll April 25, 2012 at 05:01 AM
I have always LOVED the story of the Watts Towers artist and I LOVE the TOWERS! I have always felt so cheated they are in So Cal instead of here.. I used to wish someone would commission a similar style to sit in long rows along Pacheco Blvd, coming into town, mixing with (if not obscuring) the tall columns of the refinery, making reality look more like art, and bring beauty to what has been so long neglected. Thanks for dooing the story Jim!!
Harriett Burt April 25, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Thanks, Jim. Nicely tied together with the love we all have for our town....whether perfect or not
Kristin Henderson April 26, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Cheryll....sounds like you've got a grant proposal to write. Brilliant, Brilliant thought.
Lisa M July 22, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Let's do it!!!!!! Great idea.

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