Contested discourses of suburban places have brought increasing attention to their historic “whiteness” as recent immigrants with distinct aesthetic sensibilities remodel houses and transform neighborhoods. This study examines opposition to largely Chinese immigrant renovations of early 20th century bungalows in Alhambra, California by preservationist homeowners who favor restoring houses to their original conditions. Pressing for aesthetic governmentality in the form of municipal design reviews, the predominantly white, middle-class advocates seek to alter applicant perceptions of house design in favor of an idealized “traditional” image. Affluent Chinese immigrants, however, aspire to build modernized or mansion-sized houses to appeal to local and transnational homebuyers. Although design review effectively excludes the applicants’ aesthetic preferences, while subjecting them to tests of cultural competence, aesthetic governmentality fails to change perceptions and tastes. Rather, the resulting built forms suppress alternative expressions of home and reproduce the re-imagined white suburb. Design review serves hegemonic purposes in reproducing and naturalizing the local residential landscape aesthetic on principles promoted by professional historic preservation and design elites. The resulting preserved residential landscape creates its own aspirational legitimacy.


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pp. 819-854
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