November 3, 2015 – Sun, 75 degrees
Miles Today: 36
Miles to Date: 9,368
States to Date: 25
Today I ventured where, I’ve learned, many Angelinos don’t go: down the dogleg of this great city to South Los Angeles and Watts, into Compton and Long Beach. In the bright mid-day sun these places aren’t the least bit scary and are full of intriguing characters. I met an eccentric meditator at the Coliseum, a wiry guy in an old pick-up in Watts, and some big mama’s at Budso’s Barbeque Shack. Still, LA’s Broadway looks more like a boulevard in a developing country than anyplace else in the United States. The garish colors, murals, used appliances, and lumpy mattresses spread across the sidewalk all proclaim that this place moves to a different set of expectations.
After visiting so much ‘formal’ art in LA, I was hip to visit Watts Towers. For some reason, I thought they were related to the 1965 Watts riots, but in fact they have nothing to do the riots of or the African-American community. Sam Rodia, an Italian immigrant, built Watts Towers between 1921 and 1955. Then, Sam left LA and never returned to visit his creation. They fell into disrepair, were rescued, catalogued, preserved, and are now part of a State Park complex.
The rest of my ride, along the LA River Bike Path, gave me opportunity to muse on the various art I saw in LA. The Getty Villa and Getty Center are renowned centers of fine art and conservation. The Disney Concert Hall is art in itself. The central garden at The Getty Center is a living work of art, while the Watts Towers are great folk art elevated to fine art status.
I think for most of us, creating is more satisfying than maintaining, yet we’re dedicating to preserving art that often takes more human and monetary capital to preserve than it ever took to create. The tour guide at The Getty Center described the central garden as, “The Center’s most expensive piece of art, with a cost that will continue to grow.” Meanwhile the State of California is spending all kinds of money to preserve Watts Towers. Towers which, given today’s development restrictions, could never be built in the middle of the city. Towers that Sam Rodia finished, walked away from, and never saw again. Is there a limit to how many millions The Getty will spend snipping individual leaves from trees in the central garden to create specific shadows on the walking path? How long will we preserve the bits of cement and ceramic that Sam Rodia stuck together? A hundred years? A thousand years? Is it ever okay to say that a garden is a natural thing that will grow its own way and an immigrant’s vision, once executed to his satisfaction, can be allowed to disintegrate? At what point does preserving things thwart our own ability to create?