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

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

Legitimizing Shelter-In-Place in Southern California: History, Landscape, and the Fear of Fire

This article looks at the way in which nature and wildfires have been used to legitimize not only urban development, but the way in which homes are bought and sold in Southern California. In particular, it looks at the seemingly incongruous ways in which Shelter-in-Place (SIP) practices have been sold, deployed and discussed in both the past and present. Thus, rather than focus on the success or failure of SIP, I look at the intersection of nature and ‘safety’ in urbanism to better understand how fear of natural disasters can be tied to the vernacular landscape

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).

Cinema and The Edgy City: Johannesburg, Carjacking, And The Postmetropolis

Oliver Schmitz’s Hijack Stories (2000) is a story of cross-over cultures and mixed genres set in Johannesburg. In this blurring of boundaries, he presents us an interplay between the dangerous city of both fact and fiction. Schmitz’s cinematic depiction of the city, weaves in and out, as well as to and from yuppie neighbourhoods and Soweto. Thus, we see how post-apartheid Johannesburg is a place of hybrid identities not only in the different spaces of the city, but through the influence of global hip-hop cultures, as well as the real and imagined perceptions of the city’s ‘citizens’. This paper examines the way in which Schmitz’s film intersects these relationships in this edgy city.

Fortification and Philip K. Dick: Southern California’s Boundaries

My paper involves film, literature, and architecture as expressions of the vernacular landscape across time. Philip K. Dick’s dystopian visions, although often set in distant futures, reveal a great deal about the role space plays in late capitalist society (particularly in Southern California). Although the main emphasis of my paper is on Total Recall(1991), my paper will also briefly mention some other Dick-inspired films such as Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), Paycheck (2003), and the soon to be released Scanner Darkly (2006). What is interesting to me is that these films draw on local source material, and the architectural styles used in filmmaking reflect local architectures and uses of space. The security of brutalist buildings found in the films have parallels with the anti-drug and immigration policies of the United States at the time Dick wrote the original stories. Even more important, these themes still resonate today.

Presentation for the International Visual Sociology Association @ Universita degli Studi di Urbino “Carlo Bo” (July 4, 2006)

Fortification and Visual Culture in Southern California

  • Presentation for Crossing the Boundaries XIV @ SUNY Binghamton (April 22, 2006)
My paper specifically focuses on the relationship between literature, film, and architecture since the 1970s as being constitutive of the experience of Southern California. Specifically, it is about the ways in which visual representation and the built environment have been centered around the notions of fortification and boundary. Southern California has long been thought of as a frontier, and arguably it did not close at the close of the 19th century. As a result the built environment and visual culture as continuously organized space similar to frontier outposts – from the U.S. Mexico Border to LAX.

Politics, Pictures, and Place in Southern California

  • Presentation for the Graduate Student Conference in Historical Social Science at SUNY Binghamton (April 29, 2005)
In 2003, the FOX network began airing a television program called The O.C., and it became a cultural phenomenon. Now in its second season and averaging more than 8 million viewers a week, it has become a powerful marketing tool for the real Orange County as well as other media ventures. In fact, it made such an impact, that for a while there was even consideration by some county officials to rename Santa Ana’s John Wayne Airport to The O.C. Airport. However, the popularity of this television program as well as its deliberate use of Southern California’s very real spatial class divide has also upset people. This paper seeks to examine the syngergistic relationship between politics, pictures and place in Southern California via The O.C.. In particular it looks at the unequal development in regards to access to culture and the built environment.

Rethinking Cinematic Boundaries in Hong Kong Cinema

  • Presentation for the New York Conference on Asian Studies at Bard College (October 30, 2004)
This paper will focus on the historical ephemerality of boundaries in regards to Hong Kong’s cinema in order to understand the multi-leveled negotiations that make up its cinematic vernacular. The role of place and location is both integral to the understanding of cities, as well as cinematic narratives. Although this paper mentions readings of specific films, this is not my emphasis. Rather the focus of this paper is an examination of how the pre- and post- 1997 movie industry reflects not simply the city’s engagements with the issues surrounding postcoloniality. Furthermore, I shall situated the local in long term historical processes.