In the early part of the twentieth century, the neighborhood had been home to some of the city’s most elegant mansions and hotels; by the nineteen-fifties, these had mostly been subdivided into low-income housing, and the area was populated by a mix of pensioners, immigrants, workers, and people looking to get lost—a period memorialized in several noir films and the realist gem “The Exiles.” The Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project was adopted in 1959 and somehow lasted an astonishing fifty-three years. The result, and what it means, are the subject of this short film by Keven McAlester, which compares what the same streets in downtown Los Angeles looked like in the nineteen-forties and today.
So yes, Rollins College may be old – 1885 – but its beautiful architecture is not authentic old Spanish. Strictly speaking, it’s artificial. Of course, in architecture circles, they have a word for this – Spanish Revival, which sits neatly alongside Gothic Revival, Italiante, Renaisance Revival, Queen Anne, Second Empire, Romanesque, and other styles of American architecture built to resemble something they are not. But it’s just as correct to say that Rollins College was built themed to Spanish Florida, with its conquistadors, fountains of youth, and romantic tilework.
The fact is that maybe the most distinctive single thing about American architecture is that we have always and forever loved building themed to other things. That’s why we were the country that created Coney Island and Disneyland. These places weren’t some kind of perversion of a pure cultural legacy, but simply the logical outgrowth of what we’ve always done.