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Male, Italy/US, born 1879, died 1965-07-16

Professional History

Over the years, Rodia worked in various jobs, mostly doing manual labor. He worked as a construction worker, mason, quarryman, security guard, tiler, and telephone-line repairman. All of his trade skills assisted him creating the Watts Towers.

The Online Archive of California listed UCLA's holdings of the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers Papers: "The collection contains materials generated by the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts relating to the effort to save the Towers, a selected bibliography of articles about the Towers, photographs and pictures, legal documents, audiotapes, films, slides, videotape, transcripts of interviews with Simon Rodia and others, and material regarding the Watts riots and the community response to the Towers." The materials was held in the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. (See "Finding Aid for the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts Records,"Accessed 12/05/2012.)


Rodia was born in Rivatoli (also spelled Ribbatoli), Italy, a small village near Nola in Italy's Campania region. He emigrated to the US (perhaps at age 17) and settled first in the State of PA. The web site for the Watts Towers and Art Center indicated that he lived a peripatetic existence upon entering the US. It said: "He lived in Pennsylvania, Washington (Seattle), California (Oakland, San Francisco and Martinez), Texas (El Paso) and again in California (Long Beach)." (See "WATTS TOWERS by Sam Rodia, the Watts Towers Arts Center ,"Accessed 12/04/2012.) He had resided at Long Beach since 1917. It is possible that he received his citizenship in Chicago, IL, as a "Sabato Rodia" was naturalized on 10/07/1896 in the County Court, Cook County, IL. (Another Sabato Rodia, however, born in 1860, also lived in Chicago at the same time.) If so, the naturalization form indicated that he had resided in the US for 11 years. Rodia lived in Seattle, WA, in 1902, where he was married; his King County Marriage License indicated that he worked as a farmer. A relative, Matteo Rodia, served as a witness at his marriage ceremony. He lived in Watts, Los Angeles, CA, between 1921-1955 until moving to Martinez, CA, to live with his sister. He died in Martinez, CA.

His father was Francisco Rodia, his mother Nicholetta (or perhaps Nicoletta) Chelino. In 1901, some family members--James T., Matteo and William Rodia--lodged at accommodations in Seattle, WA, at 946 10th Avenue South. James operated a cigar store, and William worked as a clerk there. Matteo worked as a "market gardener" according to the Polk's Seattle City Directory of 1901 (p. 1002).

His wife was Lucia Ucci, whom he married in 09/13/1902 in Seattle, WA. She was 15 at the time of her marriage and had been born in Italy. Her father was Sebastiano Ucci, her mother, Gratia Yagrel. Sabato and Lucia divorced in 1912. Rodia lived with another woman c. 1918, Benita, and another possibly named "Carmen" during the 1920s, but this latter relationship ended in 1927.

Two Los Angeles Times reporters, Joe Seewerker and Charles Owens, applied the name "Simon Rodilla" to Sabato Rodia in an article, "Nuestra Pueblo," of 04/28/1939. (The article had a mocking tone, making fun of Rodia's accent and poor command of English.) Following this early Times story, illustrated by a pen and ink drawing of the towers, the name "Simon" continued to be applied to him despite the inaccuracy. Neighbors also referred to him as "Sam." Rodia quit drinking in 1922, and turned to making art as a means of forgetting the habit.

Associated Locations

  • Rivatoli, Campania Italy (Architect's Birth)
    Rivatoli, Campania Italy

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    A tiny farming community c. 1880, it may no longer exist.

  • Martinez, CA (Architect's Death)
    Martinez, CA

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PCAD id: 910