Today is June 1st. Exactly 50 years ago, in 1967, a LP came out of the history: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the biggest pearls of Beatles.
The revolution of this album is not only in music, but also in the cover. The Fab Four were immortalized at the center of a colorful crowd of the most illustrious characters of the time.
An unknown profile of a man, to the left of Bob Dylan, peeps into the picture. Those deep wrinkles belongs to an Italian, Sabato Rodia.
Like the Beatles, David Bowie, Sailor Moon, Marc Bolan and Wonder Woman, even Sabato is part of the characters that I can really consider my “heroes”. No, I do not focus on glam rock or even on powers derived from the moon. But when I think of many “outsiders” I think of great heroes.
Sabato built a complex of which the highest tower reaches 30 meters, between 1921 and 1954. Alone. In one of the most degraded neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Watts. Listening Enrico Caruso from the gramophone while hanging with a simple air belt, bucket in hand.
The monumental work, renamed by the author “Nuestro Pueblo”, is enriched with fountains, ovens, tanks and, of course, towers. All this is done alongside his home with the help of materials found in the street or along the shore: colored glass, rocks, scrap, shells, stones. Saturday works as a worker, 8 hours a day on weekdays, while on holidays it is dedicated to full time.
In 1954, old and ill, he locked up his home and reached some relatives in Martinez, California. Sabato will not come back to see his creation again.
At a demolition request by municipal authorities, the population rebelled, along with museums, artists, writers and art historians. In 1959 the Towers were subjected to a technical test by an aerospace engineer to confirm its stability.
The Beatles, readers of the New Yorker, know something distracting at a distance. An Italian who denies all the “Little Italy” to live among blacks and Hispanic immigrants.
In Sgt. Pepper’s the hippie movement is dying, the exasperated and Mannerist citationism of Liverpool boys reflects on the vacuum caused by drugs and Vietnam and the lifestyle-led excess.
Sabato is there, on that varied image. It is not a Soviet spy or a soldier at the service of Japan during the Second World War (as some Americans thought), there are no code messages: it is there for his work, a masterpiece of a free person who wanted for everyone a different ” Pueblo”.

Gloria Marchini



Watts Towers, 1976 Photo: Seymour Rosen © Spaces Archive
Watts Tower, detail, 1980. Photo: Seymour Rosen © Spaces Archives

Bibliography: Luisa del Giudice, Sabato Rodia e le Torri di Watts a Los Angeles: arte, migrazione, immaginario italiano, da Gabriele Mina, Costruttori di babele, Elèuthera, Milano 2011.

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