02/08/2011 12:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Watts Towers Struggle For Crowds, Funds

LOS ANGELES -- The Watts Towers rose up against a clear blue sky as James Janisse unlocked the 10-foot-high gate that surrounds the soaring outdoor sculpture. "Behold the work of the man," said Mr. Janisse, a tour guide, and his audience took it in: the Gaudiesque mashup of towers, cathedrals, fountains and ships, constructed from pipes, broken bottles, seashells and cracked ceramic, climbing 100 feet into the air.

The towers are an iconic work of folk art with a back story -- built by an eccentric Italian immigrant working alone in his yard over 33 years -- that is nearly as captivating as the installation itself.

But they are endangered, threatened by budget cuts that are crushing governments across the nation. And they are struggling to draw crowds to this neighborhood that is far off the tourist track and is still identified, despite the passage of so much time, with some of the worst urban riots in American history.