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PRINT November 2008

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Edgar Arceneaux and the Watts House Project

1784 107th Street with the Watts Towers in the background, Los Angeles, 2000. Photo: Edgar Arceneaux.

BUILT BETWEEN 1921 AND 1955 by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant cement finisher and tile maker, the iconic Watts Towers are fantastic, airy structures of rebar, mortar, found pottery, and glass that rise almost one hundred feet into the air above the Los Angeles neighborhood for which they are named. A United States National Historic Landmark and a powerful symbol of grassroots creativity, Rodia’s masterwork receives thousands of visitors each year. But this popularity has not benefited the working-class Latino and African-American community that surrounds the site: There are no stores, restaurants, or other businesses nearby that might encourage tourists to contribute to the social and economic vitality of the area.

Hoping to fill this gap while also developing an alternative to traditional processes of gentrification, Edgar Arceneaux has undertaken the “Watts House Project,” an

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