Contradictions in California’s Orientalist Landscape: Architecture, History and Spanish-Colonial Revival

Although Spanish-Colonial Revival architecture and place-names dominates Southern California’s landscape, one also finds simulated Middle Eastern bazaars, references to Ancient Egypt, and the frequent use of iconography from the non-European Old World. While the region’s landscape is a product of bricolage and postmodern sensibilities, this article looks at the history of ‘Orientalism’ in Southern California’s built environment. In particular, I am looking at the precedents for this seemingly contradictory use of the ‘Oriental’ in the region. The ‘Oriental’ as a sinfully seductive means of creating spectacle in the built environment, is both glorified and demonized at the same time in popular discourse. For example, the ‘Oriental’ is celebrated in shopping malls, but demonized culturally and politically. However, it is in this contradiction, we can see how history and ideology has shaped the vernacular landscape. As such, this article will look at early twentieth century examples of the ‘Oriental’ in Spanish-Colonial Revival as a foundation to understand contradictions in the built environment, culture, and racial hierarchies.

(2011) “Contradictions in California’s Orientalist Landscape: Architecture, History & Spanish-Colonial Revival.” Cities. Vol. 28. No. 4. pp. 240-346. DOI: 10.1016/j.cities.2010.09.003