RIP Bud Goldstone, the Hero Who Saved Watts Towers


Bud Goldstone (1926-2012), a former aerospace engineer who worked for over 50 years to save Watts Towers, has died at the age of 86.

In 1959 he devised the test to prove the Towers were structurally sound and stopped the City of Los Angeles from demolishing them. He was a founding member of the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts, Inc., which successfully sued the city in 1985 to save the Towers from the city's neglect. He wrote the successful proposal to add the Towers to the list of National Historic Landmarks, a distinction awarded in 1990. With his wife, Arloa Paquin Goldstone, he wrote the book The Los Angeles Watts Towers published by the Getty in 1997. His video interview with The City Project in 2010 (see below) led the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to step to conserve the Towers and save them from continuing neglect by the city.

Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant and master cement mason, built the Watts Towers by himself over the course of 34 years from 1921 to 1954, using his own design, labor, materials and money.

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Mr. Goldstone saved the Towers in 1959 after the City of Los Angeles condemned them and scheduled their demolition on the grounds that they were about to fall over of their own dead weight. Mr. Goldstone did not believe the city engineers. He devised and conducted the test that proved the Towers were structurally sound. Mr. Goldstone reported, "So when it got all done, the head of the Building and Safety Department, there was a demolition sign on the front of the Watts Towers that said 'to be demolished.' He took it off and handed it to me. They had 40 of their department members there to watch me tear the Watts Towers down, but I didn't."

In 2009, Mr. Goldstone asked The City Project to help save the Towers again because of continuing neglect by the city. "I'm going to die soon, and if you don't tell my story, the Towers will die, too," he said. The City Project produced an interview with Mr. Goldstone. The interview premiered at the UCLA international conference on Watts Towers on October 22, 2010, was broadcast on KCET Departures, and led to LACMA helping to conserve the Towers.

Why did the Towers matter to Mr. Goldstone? "It's an amazing work. This man, Simon Rodia, was a master cement finisher by trade. He was a cement finisher, then he became a master cement finisher. The cement that he used, and the coloring, the pigments, are just unbelievably beautiful when you get close to them. But when you look at the Towers from a distance, you just see the shape. You get up close, you see a little of the color. You get up really close and you can see what Rodia really did, which is amazing. He was a genius, he really was."

Bud Goldstone was a genius, he really was. And a hero for saving Watts Towers.

Originally published on The City Project blog.

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