Materializing Spanish-Colonial Revival Architecture: History and Cultural Production in Southern California

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In the early twentieth century, Spanish-Colonial Revival became embedded in the local culture of Southern California. However, this architectural style did not simply appear, rather it was materialized by architects, builders, realtors, and manufacturers of construction materials who built for and sold to homeowners. This process was not simply about using “history“ and “heritage.“ Rather, these social actors had to legitimize the ubiquitous use of red-tile roofing and cement stucco to establish new aesthetic norms and conventions for the vernacular landscape. As such, this article will look at the relationship between the political economy of building and aesthetics in the shaping of the vernacular landscape.

(2012) “Materializing Spanish-Colonial Revival: The Historical Landscape and Cultural Production in Southern California.” Home Cultures. Vol. 9. No. 2. pp. 149-172. DOI: 10.2752/175174212X13325123562223

Spanish-Colonial Revival & Shelter-In-Place: History, Media and Contemporary Fear of Wildfires

In recent years large wildfires have plagued Southern California’s landscape. The most notable set of fires was in October of 2003, in which multiple fires scorched an area the size of small eastern states. In San Diego County alone, over 280,000 acres were burned before it was contained. Like hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast, such fires have become a ‘seasonal’ disaster with heavy media coverage. At the same time, the media has included stories covering the successful use of shelter-in-place (SIP) practices, which are pre-emptive measures that protect homes from fire. This combination of increased fire and stories of successful uses of SIP, has made such measures more and more popular amongst different parties, including developers, government agencies, and homeowners (Cova and Johnson 2002; Dicus and Scott 2006).

This paper seeks to situate SIP within a social and historical context rather than focus on its successes and failures. Rather, it is my intent to open up a discussion of the historical and contemporary ways in which ‘safety’ are used to legitimize a particular type of urbanism – one that development driven and whose marketing if fear based. This analysis has two major threads running through it. The first is the issue of legitimization. Architecture and homes (as with all cultural products) are socially produced, as such their production (like all social activities) need to be legitimized (Becker 1984; Wolff 1993). The second issue, which runs through this paper, is the way in which this legitimization is tied to the production of space, which includes the natural and built environments (Heynen, Kaika, and Swyngedouw 2006; Lefebvre 1991). Therefore, this legitimization is not merely about defense. Rather the idea of ‘defense’ is a means towards the end of selling products. While such an instrumental logic by developers works as a business model, I want to criticize the premises and implications behind SIP’s usage.

Roundtable Presentation @ American Sociological Association in San Francisco, CA

Materializing Fantasy: Myth & Home Construction in Southern California

In early twentieth century, Spanish-Colonial Revival became embedded in the local culture of Southern California. Through community celebrations, literature, film, and place names, images of the romantic Spanish past proliferated in mass media. However, perhaps most important of all was Spanish-Colonial Revival’s implementation in new homes. Both in the 1920s and since the 1980s, Spanish-Colonial Revival dominated the look of new suburban developments in Southern California. As such, red-tile, stucco, and palm trees are ubiquitous markers of not only development, but of regional identity. This presentation intends to explore the past (1920s) in order to make sense of present in two ways. The first is a demystification of Spanish-Colonial Revival via an examination of the political-economy of construction. It is my argument that, through the intersection of architecture, construction, and real-estate, the myth of “Hispanic California” was materialized. Secondly, this presentation seeks to grapple with the problematic legacy of the mythologized “Hispanic California” past. To put it simply, no heads turn when a new community is named after a hacienda, but the same could not be said about the term plantation, despite both terms have the same implications. Thus looking at construction and the iconography around it, we can understand the way in which power and difference is reproduced within both the built environment and discourse.
Presentation for the Pacific Sociological Association in San Diego, CA (April 2009).