The Watts Towers are about to get a major face lift. And like the bandages that come with cosmetic surgery, scaffolding will cover the towers for at least three years.
"If people plan to see the towers, now is the time to do it," said Mark Greenfield, director of the Watts Towers Arts Center.
Erosion from aging compounded by the Jan. 17 earthquake prompted the city of Los Angeles to speed up tower restoration efforts. The scaffolding will start going up next week.
It will take at least six weeks to cover the towers, said Bud Goldstone, an engineering consultant who will be working on the renovation.
Major restoration efforts began in 1985 when the Cultural Affairs Department took over responsibility for the national historic landmark after decades of neglect.
Zuleyma Aguirre, on-site supervisor for the conservation of the towers, said the Northridge quake prompted renewed restoration work that had already been identified.
The towers consist of nine major sculptures of mortar covering steel, with spires from 13 feet to 99 1/2 feetl. The tallest contains the longest slender reinforced concrete columns in the world.
"I did two inspections and found a lot of damage," Aguirre said. "We have major cracks, falling structural members and horizontal bands that need to be repaired."
Aguirre said the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted $950,000 to repair earthquake damage to the Watts Towers, constructed between 1921 and 1954 by Simon Rodia.
Consultants estimate it will take at least three years to complete the project. However, Goldstone said, "It might be a little longer than that.
"Based on past experience, we always find some surprises," said the consultant, who has worked on tower restoration projects off and on for 35 years. "In a three-year period in Southern California anything can happen--the winds, the rains and earthquakes."
Tours of the towers will continue, but with a limited schedule, Greenfield said. Self-guided tours will be allowed from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Groups of 15 or more can tour the towers at any time with a reservation. Donations are requested.
Information: (213) 847-4646.