The blur of front yards, street crossings and corner markets flashing past the trolley car window gives way to a more curious sight as the Metro Rail Blue Line slows to approach the 103rd Street station.
A trio of wispy-looking spires reach into the sky like the masts of a sailing ship moored incongruously in the middle of a sleepy neighborhood.
"The Watts Towers," explained a passenger on the train as his seatmate turned to stare on a recent day.
Nearly 60 years after Simon Rodia began troweling cement onto scrap-steel legs of his unusual sculpture, the railroad is once again giving the Watts Towers an audience of thousands.
The self-taught artist toiled from 1921 to 1954, often suspended by a window-washer's belt from spidery, whimsical structures that eventually reached 99 1/2 feet.
Rodia had selected a tiny, triangular-shaped parcel at 1765 E. 107th St. for his project because it was bordered by what was then Los Angeles' busiest transportation corridor: two trolley lines that carried thousands of travelers daily between downtown and a dozen outlying communities.
"He wanted lots of visitors, that's why he picked a lot next to the Red Car lines," said Bud Goldstone, a structural engineer who has been involved with Watts Towers maintenance and restoration since 1959.
But the towers were less visible after the historic Red Car lines were abandoned and the trolleys scrapped in 1961, isolating the Watts neighborhood.
For a time, there was a sign that advertised the Watts Towers to travelers on the Harbor Freeway. But it eventually disappeared and was never replaced. More recently, only a few scattered arrows on neighborhood streets pointed visitors to the site.
Things are changing this summer, however.
The month-old Blue Line from Los Angeles to Long Beach is once again carrying thousands of commuters past the towers. Some passengers have begun exiting at the 103rd Street station and taking the short walk to Rodia's masterpiece.
Increased numbers of foreign travelers have also begun searching out the towers, prompted in part by new international guidebooks that list Rodia's creation as one of the Southland's architectural marvels.
And federal officials are considering bestowing national landmark status on the towers, following the lead of state and local leaders who have declared them a historic monument.
The increased attention has prompted city officials to more than double the number of weekly public tours at the fenced-in site on Saturdays and Sundays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Until the city recently installed new directional signs and banners that promote the towers in the Watts area, "it was not easy" for visitors to find them, acknowledged Goldstone, whose wife, Arloa, is a volunteer tour guide.
"I drove around for 45 minutes before I got here," said Natasha Bult, a Manhattan student who pulled up late one recent weekday afternoon. She said she learned of the towers in a Princeton University visual arts class.
But Bult was dismayed that the gate was locked. Security guard Kevin Harris, on duty at the nearby Watts Towers Arts Center, urged her to return on the weekend.
Those taking weekend tours are rewarded with close-up views of the bits of glass, 7-Up bottle bottoms, seashells, broken pottery and tile chips that Rodia used to turn his concrete sculpture into giant mosaics.
German playwright Jurgen Lemke of East Berlin listened intently as tour guide Ernest Walker explained how common kitchen baking molds were used to create a corncob look along one mortared wall.
Tourist Tim Butler, a nuclear plant inspector from Aiken, S.C., said the do-it-yourself look is refreshing after "the glitter and glamour" that visitors see at other Los Angeles attractions.
Walker said metal reinforcing bars that have turned rusty where mortar has chipped and flaked away are being replaced. The strengthening work is expected to continue through 1993.
In the meantime, scaffolding being used by repair workers gives the towers a rickety, temporary look that is worrisome to some visitors.
"I don't understand how you have the Getty Museum buying millions of dollars' worth of pieces from Europe and you're letting this fall apart. It's beyond belief," said tourist Ton Schaap, an architect and urban designer from Amsterdam. He described the towers as "fantastic . . . amazing."
Added Vincent Borrelli, a Syracuse, N.Y., artist: "If this was in a wealthy suburban locale, I'm sure it would have gotten the proper attention long ago. Or maybe torn down. Maybe it's a mixed blessing it's here."
The towers' Watts setting was part of their attraction to tourist John Borneman, a Harvard University anthropology professor from Cambridge, Mass.
"If it were in Beverly Hills, I wouldn't be interested. This is the only piece of art I'm visiting in L.A. during the three days I'm here," he explained.
According to John Outterbridge, director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, the renovation has proceeded slowly because Rodia's work is "so special and so unorthodox--there are no blueprints."
Outterbridge said the towers' fame is worldwide. "We get calls from the State Department all the time about a group of 40 Russian scholars that are coming, for instance, or a group of aborigines from Australia."
He said the resurrected trolley service has again put the towers within reach of many who might otherwise miss Watts--including Southland residents.
Long Beach resident James Farrah said he and friend Laura Mahaffey of Garden Grove decided to get off the trolley and take a look after a fellow passenger told them about Rodia's work.
"I'd never heard of the Watts Towers," said Farrah, a service manager. "I'd seen a picture of them, but I thought they were for electric lines or something.
"I'm glad we stopped. This is an interesting part of L.A."