Category Archives: Offbeat Destinations

Simon Rodia’s Watts Tower

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The Watts Towers, located in California, were designed and constructed by Simon Rodia. The towers consist of seventeen sculptures, including three towers, with the tallest standing at nearly 100 feet. Other noteworthy sculptures include a gazebo and a ship. The most impressive thing about the towers is that Rodia built them entirely by himself from 1921 to 1954.

The towers were constructed using steel rebar armatures, mortar, and wire mesh. No scaffolding or machinery was used to build the towers, although Rodia occasionally used a window washer’s belt and buckle. He decorated the structures in mosaics of broken pottery, glass, shells, and other discarded objects.

Rodia was born as Sabato Rodia in 1879 in Ribottoli, Italy. It is possible that he visited the nearby village of Nola to attend the annual Gigli Festival where he would have encountered the Giglio structures (pictured below). These structures may have served as direct inspiration for his creation later on.

Rodia came to America in the mid-1890s. In 1921, after a couple of unsuccessful relationships and various jobs, Rodia decided to start his artistic journey at 1761-1765 107th Street in the Watts community of Los Angeles. He worked as a construction worker during the day and dedicated all of his spare time to making his art. He decided to create “something big,” and he did exactly that.

In 1955, at the age of 75, Rodia decided to leave his grand project behind to go live in Martinez, California with family. He handed the keys over to a neighbor. In 1959, the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts was formed to help preserve the site. After critics of the towers had questioned the safety of the structures, the site went through extensive safety testing and passed. This is a great accomplishment considering that Rodia was mainly self-taught. In 1990, the towers were listed as a National Historic Landmark, and presently the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department manages the park. Visitors can view Rodia’s amazing towers by attending a guided tour. Until then, here is a YouTube video (filmed by PC3DM) of a quadcopter flying over the Watts Towers.


Resources:
Giglio Festival: www.nyfolklore.org/pubs/voic31-1-2/giglio.html
Watts Tower Art Center: www.wattstowers.org
Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds

Palais Idéal

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1024px-palais_ideal_du_facteur_cheval_14Ferdinand Cheval, the creator of Palais Idéal, was born in 1836 in Charmes-sur-l’herbasse, a village near Hauterives, France. He worked as a rural postman for most of his life.

In 1879, at the age of 43, Cheval stumbled over a rock during one of his mail delivery runs. Inspired by the rock’s unusual shape, Cheval began his dream of creating a palace. He worked on Palais Idéal for 33 years, and it took approximately 3,500 bags of lime to construct the palace. Read more…

The House of Dreams Museum

wright4wrightwright3Stephen Wright is an artist and designer from East Dulwich, an area of south London, England. About 31 years ago, he began transforming his house and garden into the House of Dreams Museum. He was inspired to create the museum after viewing Jarvis Cocker’s documentaries on outsider art, called Journeys into the Outside with Jarvis Cocker (which I highly recommend watching). His museum is full of elaborate mosaics and found object sculptures. It also serves as a shrine for his memories and a tribute to his deceased partner and parents. It was bequeathed to the National Trust and is open to the public. The visiting hours are listed on his website. 


Image Credits: Stephen Wright, www.stephenwrightartist.com

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Grandview

 

grandview-1grandview-4grandview-5Grandview is a sculpture garden located in Hollandale, Wisconsin. In the 1930s, self-taught artist and dairy farmer, Nick Engelbert, began working on this sculpture garden. His wife, Katherine, added her own personal touch by creating lovely garden beds around each of the sculptures. Engelbert started his creations as wooden and wire mesh armatures, which he then embellished with mosaics of glass, shells, and other found materials. Engelbert’s subject matter ranged from fairy tales to patriotic motifs.

After his wife passed away in 1960, Engelbert sold Grandview and moved to Baltimore to live with his daughter. He left behind a beautiful landscape of forty sculptures. Left on its own, the property began to slowly decay and in some cases, vandalism came into play. Fortunately, the Kohler Foundation bought the property in 1991 and began restoring it. There is now an educational program for Grandview as well.

Here is a link to a video about Grandview created by The Wisconsin Art Environment Consortium.


Website: www.nicksgrandview.com
Image Credits (top to bottom): 1) From my photo archives 2 & 3) via Interesting Ideas

The Gingerbread Castle

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gingerbread-2.jpgThe Gingerbread Castle, originally a fairy tale themed amusement park, is located in Hamburg, New Jersey. The castle was designed in 1928 by the Austrian architect and set designer, Joseph Urban, and commissioned by F.H. Bennett. Bennett purchased the property in 1921 to expand the operations of his company, F.H Biscuits (a dog biscuit manufacturer).

Bennett decided to create his fairytale castle after seeing Urban’s set design work at a performance of “Hansel and Gretel” by the Metropolitan Opera. Also, Bennett drew inspiration from memories of reading the Brothers Grimms’ fairytales as a child.

The castle opened in 1930, and it quickly became a popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, by the early 1980s, the castle started to slowly deteriorate. During the past several years, the property has gone through several transformations. At separate points, the property has been used as a haunted house and as a nightclub.

In 2004, Frank Hinger, a New Jersey resident, purchased the property. Hinger started the restoration process with assistance from grants, fundraisers, and supporters of the castle. The property eventually became too expensive for him to fully revitalize, and Hinger decided to sell it. A real estate developer bought the property with intentions to continue the restoration process. So far, not much has been done, and the castle is falling into a state of disrepair. Visitors should note that the property is currently closed and fenced off. The castle can still be seen from the road.