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Watts Towers stability strength examined for longevity, other projects

April 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
They are among the most iconic and certainly the most unusual landmarks in all Los Angeles. But the Watts Towers are starting to show their age.

The elements are taking their toll on the Watts Towers. Cracks are everywhere.

The L.A. County Museum of Art and UCLA engineers installed more than a dozen sensors at strategic spots to measure the effects of wind, temperature, moisture and earthquakes on the iconic piece of art.

They say it's not about to fall over, but they are looking for a way to strengthen the stability of the towers.

"The goal is to stop chasing cracks," said Mark Gilberg, director of the LACMA Conservation Center. "The goal is to try to find a crack-filler that's flexible, so as the sculpture moves we don't have any more additional cracks, or propagation of the crack."

The Watts Towers were built by Italian artist Simon Rodia. He started construction next to his home on East 107th Street in 1921. It took him more than 30 years to complete.

The towers have endured several earthquakes, and they were not damaged during the Watts Riots of 1965. The site was designated a national landmark in 1990.

"When I see it, the first thing that comes to my mind is kind of like the pyramids in Egypt," said Watts resident Jessie Goff. "These are like the pyramids in Watts."

The solution that the engineers come up with to strengthen could be used to strengthen old structures not only here in the city, but around the world.

"We have a lot of bridges in downtown L.A. that have material problems like this, bridges that were built in the 1910s, 1920s," said UCLA engineer Bob Nigbor. "There's a lot of monuments like this around the country and around the world that can really benefit from the scientific knowledge that we as engineers and the art museum people as conservators can gain from this project."

They're hoping to find that solution before funding for this project runs out at the end of the year.


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