Sunday, April 22, 2007


Of course Los Angeles should retain its deco architecture, it's craftsman houses, it's Googie's restaurants and hot-dog stands shaped like cartoon characters, nobody disputes that. But what about the rest? What should be the norm? What building style reflects the real soul of the city? That's easy...traditional Mexican style!

Well we are in the Southwest, after all. And it's about time that we made a radical re-assessment of Mexican style and how it compares to other styles. Mexican architectute isn't just one more quaint variation of the New World Spanish style, it's the very best variation. It's easily the most beautiful style anywhere in the Americas. It's probably more beautiful than what you'd find in Spain. It's world class, fully comparable to middle-European and Japanese styles.
It certainly is full of fun and color. Maybe that's because it's a synthesis of Spanish and native indian styles. Aztecs used to love those colorfull, complex jigsaw puzzle shapes and every indian seems to have inherited a taste for bright-colored handicrafts. Other South American cultures are colorfull too. I'm thinking of the Panamanian and Peruvian indians. The difference is that they colored only their textiles. Mexicans colored almost everything.

I know what you're thinking, what about the Haitians (not portrayed in pictures here)? They REALLY color everything! But they don't have the Mexicans' taste. Sorry. Haiti overdoes it.

These pillars are the natural, uncarved forms taken by a palm tree that grows in Mexico. Are the tendrils part of the palm or are they the kind of parasitic wooden vine that strangles trees? I don't know, but they sure are pretty. Try not to look at the ugly, modernist wall behind the pillars. I guess even Mexico has its share of bad architects.

Los Angeles isn't that far from Mexico. What could be more natural than a Mexican influence on what we do here? Why are we impoting East Coast and Bauhaus styles when one of the world's most pleasing styles exists right in our own backyard?
The red brick house above is from England. It's the house that was just in the news for being trashed by English MySpace readers. It's pretty ugly, isn't it? Why does modern England insist on building so many ugly houses? The amazing thing is that they're right next to France where tourists flock to see the traditional architecture. I guess the English are just too proud to be influenced by foreigners. And so are we. We in the Southwest U.S. are just too proud to be influenced by the beauty next door.


Craig D said...


Totally unrelated to this post, but I thought you might enjoy THIS link, which is a gallery of women and mandolins.

...or maybe you're not a music-lover?

Jorge Garrido said...

Great post, but what about Guatemalan architecture?

Those latin savages sure know how to build.

Jennifer said...

Hi Uncle Eddie,

I thought there was some Mexican-influenced buildings in the Southwest, especially in New Mexico and Arizona. I'm always learning something on this blog.

Mexican architecture is interesting. It's a good combination of Spanish and Native American elements.

Re: ugly houses in England. In the 1980's, Prince Charles criticized architects for destroying the old buildings with their unique architecture and replacing them with uber-neo designs (glass and steel) or plain designs. IIRC, he was criticized for his critique for being "traditional"...

AMID said...

Architecture historians like David Gebhard and Reyner Banham have already made a pretty convincing case that most Southern California architecture is based on Mexican influence, if not in specific mannerisms then in spirit. Gebhard even links SoCal modernists like Neutra and Gregory Ain to Spanish Colonial Revival.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Almost every house in LA is butt-ugly. I'm drowning in ugly.

Doodlebugg said...

I disagree with Kali. Just about every house in LA built before WWII is amazing. They have STYLE. I drove down Olympic Blvd. yesterday and marvelled at the houses east of the 405 to Koreatown. STYLE all over the place.

LA houses built in the early '50's can be reclaimed with style depending on which style it was built in to begin with. Mid-'50's to now...very hard to find style AND workmanship. There are exceptions to these rules, but not many.

Jennifer said...

Don't mean to post twice - weren't the "craftsmen's houses" built in SoCal?

Shawn said...

>>Just about every house in LA built before WWII is amazing.<<

I agree! There are some neighborhoods in LA that make me feel like I'm walking through a Laurel and Hardy movie. Many old homes in LA have a lot of character.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Amid: Interesting comparison! I already knew Neutra but I had to look up Ain. I don't know, those look like pretty indirect influences.

Jennifer: yeah, there's lots of craftsman houses out here, especially in Passadena. I love them and I wish people would build more of them.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

I agree with you nearly 100 %, Eddie. The Spanish styled buildings look great in LA.

However, there are some really unique exceptions, like the Bradbury building downtown (well known for being feature in the movie Blade Runner).

Other than that, I tend to agree with Kali. Most of LA, with a few exceptions, is ugly. Especially the Valley.

Jenny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny said...

Ah, J.J.!--lots but not all of the Valley's architecture is ugly--the reason being that 90% of what's visible now was built well after WW2, a crap time for style. Strip malls and stucco, with some notable exceptions. Then again, "the Valley" is a pretty large place. I guess I'm really thinking of North Hollywood & Van Nuys--places I used to call "no man's land" when I was a teenager because that's how it felt to have to take the bus and pound the always-boiling asphalt when I had to travel through it.

Los Angeles on the other hand has great beauty in almost every part. Its eclectic collection of home styles is one of the things that makes it lovable and beautiful. Hancock Park and Fremont Place, West Hollywood, Holywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake--I've lived in all those neighborhoods during my life and each has riches to spare in terms of houses, public buildings, charming streets and fantastic churches(southern California's Catholic churches patented the "Barrocco" style of architecture--esp. there you'll find some great mexican influences).

Now I live in Pure Heaven--bungalow heaven, that is. ; )

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

jenny: A bungalow? Why not put up some pictures of your house?