Death of the hardware store

Chas Spain

As the harmless nondescript strips of suburban Melbourne are systematically bulldozed by developers, a few local shops cling to each other like possums in the equally sparse remnant vegetation.

Next to the sublime Melbourne Vintage Audio shop (I wrote about yesterday) sits this slither of a hardware store dug in like an echidna, bristling with spiky wares to ward off anyone in a sharp suit. In the soft underbelly no doubt there is an ancient shopkeeper and an able assistant who can find a 31/2″ screw in a flash (no we don’t sell metric fittings in here my dear they would say ever so slightly patronisingly).

When we lived in St Kilda there was such a little hardware shop just off Acland St – a great refuge for newlyweds unsure of the etiquette of dealing with the early disasters of home making. Nothing like a wander about an array of power…

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We visited the Watts Towers on the Sunday before Christmas. Watts Towers are the remarkable creation of an immigrant tile setter named Simon Rodia, who worked on them from 1921 to about 1954.

Watts Towers from outside south wall. Watts Towers from outside south wall.

There are seventeen towers and other structures on the property, the largest being about 90′ tall.

Watts Towers seen from the adjoining park. Watts Towers seen from the adjoining park.

The towers were created entirely by Rodia using hand tools only. He fashioned them from rebar wrapped in chicken wire and packed with mortar. The rebar he bent by hand, sliding the rods under railroad tracks to hold them steady.

Simon Rodia. Photo from Simon Rodia. Photo from

He then covered his creations with a mosaic made from all manner of common items – sea shells, broken bottles, odd bits of tiles and ceramics.

Mosaic with glass bottles. Mosaic with glass bottles.

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Rodia also used all kinds of objects to create patterns in the mortar. Rodia also used all kinds of objects to create patterns in the mortar.

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