Watts Towers, the 24-year-old art work that shows that so-called "junk" can be beautiful, are falling down.
But the key question, upon which the combined forces of city and state are in disagreement with the towers' preservation committee, is how rapid that process is. And that involves repair money - and how fast it should be spent.
According to structural engineer N.J. (Bud) Goldstone, who has been monitoring the sculpture - made of such items as broken glass, rusted metal and bedsprings - for the committee, the smallest of the three towers is "in imminent danger of collapse," and the other two are "rapidly deteriorating."
But according to Marvin Levin, director of Los Angeles' bureau of public buildings, the urgency for repair is not all that great even though the South Los Angeles landmark and tourist attraction has been closed since early March. Liability is one thing and stability is another, Levin said.
"I've had structural engineers examine it, and we just don't find the same degree of urgency (as the towers committee). Sure, pieces of tile have fallen off, so we closed it. We felt we didn't want to expose the city to liability. But in terms of stability, its structural integrity, we don't feel the urgency."
In Sacramento, a spokesman for the Department of Parks and Recreation said his engineers are on the scene, too: "We've got people down there looking. It (the towers) is losing pieces but it's not going to collapse in a heap."
But Goldstone, who is active in the Committee for the Simon Rodia Towers in Watts, said three of the four legs under the east tower are "already buckling." He added that he would not guess how long they will hold up. Between April 1 and April 12 alone, he said, "The crack in one of these legs increased from one-quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch." He also saw cracks in the fireplace Rodia had built in his home and cracks in the gazebo. And that, Goldstone said, was before still more rain hit.
A possible solution to the Watts Towers controversy came from the state Public Works Board when it approved a $207,000 contract for repair work. Levin said Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley is expected to sign the contract, which will be paid by the state and let by the city, and restoration work would start soon.
But Goldstone said his group had some objections to the city's plan: "We think the repair work might damage them further and we solicit your (the board's) help to see that prompt and proper repair work is done."
State Finance Director Roy Bell, board chairman, replied it could only approve the expenditure of money for the work.
Meanwhile, executive secretary Jeanne Morgan of the Towers Committee says $250,000 that should have been used for repair has been dormant since last summer.
In turn, Levin says "the minute" the $207,000 comes down from Sacramento, he will spend it. But, he says, the $250,000 can be used for "other worthy projects . . . child-care centers, you name it."