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A history of paradise

April 30, 2006|Thomas Curwen | Times Staff Writer

Scarier than the Spadena House, the model home complex -- found in every new-home development in Southern California -- is fantasy kitsch. Stuck in a time warp, they bring to mind the dreams and sad longings of American life without a hint of irony.In this world, the ideal life is serious business, and it exists well beyond the Jeffersonian grid with its right-angled streets and side-by-side city blocks. It exists in a place where curlicues and cul-de-sacs, new homes and community pools reign.

At the Villages of Columbus in Tustin, one of Orange County's newest master-planned communities, utopianism abounds. No longer is it enough to sell bedrooms and baths. Today you sell a lifestyle, and here it's the "socially interactive infrastructure" and the promise of more time, less stress and happier families.

The homes are just off a street called Sweet Shade and feature a mix of Georgian, Victorian, Tudor and Craftsman styles. Inside, there are robes in the closets, bath oils on the counters, soft music playing in the background.

Walk these recently paved streets, tour the models and you can't help but feel a little guilty: In their promise of perfection lies a judgment about the world you've left behind.


On the Web

For an interactive map of the sites in this story, featuring pop-up photos and audio narration, and for a bibliography of the books used in the research, visit

Sources: Jessica Maria Alicea, manager, Heritage Square; Brian Sheridan, director of development, Heritage Square; Rick Auerbach, assessor, Los Angeles County; Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues, Los Angeles Conservancy; William Deverell, professor of history, USC; Robert Gohstand, professor of geography emeritus, Cal State Northridge; Joel Fox, former president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.; Trevor Grimm, general counsel of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.; Joel Kotkin, Irvine Senior Fellow, New America Foundation; Robert Knowles, special assistant, assessor, Los Angeles County; Robert D. Montoya, Historical Society of Southern California; Becky M. Nicolaides, associate professor of History and Urban Studies and Planning, UC San Diego; Merry Ovnick, associate professor of history, Cal State Northridge; Leonard Pitt, professor of history, emeritus, Cal State Northridge; Kevin Roderick, editor and author; Kevin Starr, professor of history, USC; D.J. Waldie, public information officer, city of Lakewood.

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