McMansion Town USA

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This story is part of A/N’s new blog series dedicated to exploring neighborhoods around the country

El Monte, CA, about 20 minutes east of Los Angeles, is a gated community. Wonky chain-linked fences and rusty metal gates keep the residents in and the criminals out. Some say El Monte is an up-and-coming city. After all, the proof is in the posh homes popping up throughout the city. “El Monte … encourages quality housing developments through well thought-out architectural designs, use of high quality materials, and enhanced landscaping,” says the city’s official website. However, a walk through the city gives another impression. Many of the city’s new housing developments look like slightly fancier versions of mobile homes parked on mounds of land, with little thought given to landscaping and aesthetics. These ornate McMansions look almost comical when compared to neighboring houses. They are available because residents are earning more nowadays. The U.S. Census reported its median household income to be $32,439 in 1999. In 2008, that number increased by nearly ten thousand to $42,363. Yet, the median household income in El Monte has not increased that much when compared to its neighboring cities: Temple City increased by $17,576, Arcadia by $24,168. Thus, although El Monte residents are able to afford larger homes, they can only do so if they choose to live in condominiums or condo-esque homes.

Some of the stucco McMansions are an odd mixture of styles — with faux shutters and stark, almost modernist lines and angles. Others attempt to be more stately, with Greek pillars, but these homes are punctuated with carbon copy windows that scream of a desperate attempt at stature. Most of these McMansions have a few square feet of greenery; the rest of the land is concrete. One McMansion does not have any landscaping, unless an out of place water fountain can be called landscaping.

These architectural designs are anything but “well thought-out.” They look like monstrosities next to their neighbors. The smaller, traditional homes are hidden behind chain-linked fences and under Christmas lights left over from nine months ago, or perhaps even longer. Quite a number of El Monte lawns do not have “enhanced landscaping”: Many homes house mismatched groups of fruit trees; greenery; weeds; and splotches of green, yellow and brown grass.

The new McMansions may give someone speeding down the residential streets of El Monte the impression of a city pregnant with potential, but El Monte is still a community crawling out of near-poverty.

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10 Responses to “McMansion Town USA”

  1. […] 21, 2010Posted in: REAL ESTATE NEWSTags: LA real estate news Comments [0]Digg it!Facebook "Many of the city’s new housing developments look like slightly fancier versions of mobile homes pa… So the Architect's Newspaper sets its eyes on El Monte, offering up an architectural critique […]

  2. Jack Skelley says:

    OUch !

  3. Dan says:

    Speaking of Stucco, you should check out this Rainscreen Stucco video animation on You Tube:

  4. Patrick says:

    I’m betting that the largely immigrant population that tends to drive development like this would disagree whole heartedly with the assumptions of this article. Vuong says that certain elements of the houses “scream of a desperate attempt at stature.” And that is entirely the point. These are people who have “made it” in many ways. At least relative to where they came from. Their attempt to reflect that success in their homes is admittedly somewhat nouveau riche, but I think Voung misses something by simply dismissing them as “McMansions.” And I think the phenomenon of “McMansions” in largely white outer ring suburbs has a different genesis or motivation than in places like El Monte.

  5. Scott Mercer says:

    The California style ranch home with a sparwling one level design on a small lots (half acre or less) was always a bad idea. These McMansions may not look pretty (especially in stucco) but building up is the only way to go. The ranch style home may have been appropriate on an actual ranch, unless you are talking about over 100 years ago, this area has been suburban or small city infill rather than actual agricultural land.

    You’re right, the McMansions look inappopriate, and will continue to look inappropriate, in comparison to the one story ranch homes next to them. There is a good solution to that: tear down all the one story ranch homes until there is nothing but McMansions.

  6. Matt Hudson says:

    El Monte is not gated. A few neighborhoods in the city are.

  7. Wooster says:

    There is an area in El Monte, called the “rurban” area, which was characterized by larger lots and low, california ranch homes. It was pretty nice. Many of the lots have been split and had 4-6k sf ugly tuscan/moorish homes on them. The City doesn’t care. They are so broke they need any fee they can get, but they still beat up developers on less important issues. I have done two deals in El Monte and will never go back. Planning Commission basically asks out loud for the bribe and no one has any real concern about the future of the city. Meanwhile, the surrounding places are pushing to improve and the asian communities are helping this effort. El Monte, on the other hand, is more Latino and isn’t really banding together to improve the area. Totally sad.

  8. Nadia says:

    Dare I say… shiteious? Were there really architects involved in designing these monstrosities? Those white metal fences are the absolute worst!

  9. Nathan says:

    Aside from the surrounding white metal fence, the house on the bottom pretty much looks like a textbook example of the entry to mid-level suburban abortions that have popped up across California–as well as Phoenix and Vegas–in the last five to seven years. I wouldn’t call it a McMansion necessarily, at least compared with the top two. Maybe a starter McMansion, but I guess that’s just splitting hairs now, isn’t it?


  10. Tom says:

    As ridiculous as the city’s claims maybe, Mr. Vuong comes across as a snob. In addition, Nathan is correct, that house is everywhere in suburbia across this nation including the tile roof line, not just in the West. Its hardly a McMansion

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