73. The abandoned city

Robin Rauzi in an essay in today's Los Angeles Times finds her way finally to the Watts Towers. Perennially facing one catastrophe or another, the towers might be the perfect metaphor of Los Angeles "? a place that many see as a bright but broken assemblage of disordered bits ready always to fall into ruin. The towers are labeled "baffling" in the headline to Rauzi's piece, which is true enough about the city for some Angeleños as well.

Add that Sabato (Sam or Simon) Rodia arrived, built the towers, handed them over to a neighbor when he was finished, and then left Los Angeles forever. If you imagine that Los Angeles is always reached from the east, Rodia's story might serve as another metaphor for the city "? a place where you arrive after arduous travel, find insubstantial pleasures, ultimately find the city wanting, and finally abandon.

But if Los Angeles isn't the terminal city of the East, but the leading edge of everything south of us, then the metaphor doesn't work.

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The towers are in trouble again. As Rauzi notes:

If Watts Towers, like Lady Liberty at the mouth of the Hudson River, was positioned in a prominent locale (say next to the intersection of the 10 and the 405), more Angeleños might demand it get sufficient attention and care from the tangle of government agencies it's been entrusted to. The skinny pie-slice of a lot and adjacent park are owned by the California State Parks but administered by Los Angeles' Department of Cultural Affairs, under a lease that lasts another 20 years. Since 1990, the site also has been on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, but that means it's worthy of protection, not that there's cash set aside to do it.

Just last month, two city commissions "? Cultural Affairs and Cultural Heritage "? met at City Hall to face dogged complaints of inadequate maintenance and poor conservation at the towers. There's talk of asking for help from the Getty Conservation Institute or from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and of soliciting private donations. It'll take an estimated $5 million to get them back in prime condition.

No truer metaphor than that "? the towers and the city both governed piecemeal and badly maintained, but beloved intermittently . . .

. . . a place that was arrived at after an arduous journey from the westside, was briefly enjoyed, found wanting, and then abandoned again.

The image on this page was made by Flickr user The Photographer. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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