This study examines how three Southern California cities—Pasadena, Riverside and San Bernardino—used the processes of urban renewal and historic preservation as development strategies for their downtown business districts. The ways in which these processes were employed has both reflected and shaped the cities' evolving definitions of community. These ideas of community were both inclusive and exclusive, favoring certain ethnicities and cultural practices over others to advance a particular civic image. The case studies are representative of cities in the region that are "other than Los Angeles;" those founded in the nineteenth-century after the Spanish and Mexican periods, but prior to the expansion of suburbs linked to the metropolitan area. The three cities are of similar size, and each was created by specific group of immigrants intent on establishing a settlement of like-minded people, with shared values and viewpoints. Each city subsequently faced similar economic and social challenges imposed by rapid population growth in the decades following World War Two, but developed divergent responses vis-à-vis policies of renewal and preservation.
Was Pasadena's nationally-recognized success in building civic character through historic preservation aided by a greater level of homogeneity within the community than was in evidence in San Bernardino and Riverside? Guided by this initial question, the study highlights the scholarly debates concerning the use of history as an element of community identity, and presents an overview of the origins and practice of urban renewal and historic preservation at the national level. Shifting to the specific histories of the three cities, the narrative illustrates how residents sought to develop and define their civic identities through promotion, agriculture, and architecture that evoked what has been termed the "Spanish Fantasy Past." At the same time, residents attempted to exclude or minimize the presence of ethnic minorities or others who did not fit into the preferred community image.
After World War Two, government and business leaders attempted to use the federally-funded urban renewal process to reverse the economic fortunes of their aging central business districts. Renewal emphasized large scale rebuilding of the cityscape for maximum efficiency, and to better accommodate automotive traffic, but often at the cost of the older buildings that were key to the cities' distinctive identities. Such loss of local history through renewal became a national concern, and contributed to the passage of federal historic preservation legislation in 1966.
Preservation's new legal standing gave added weight to the efforts of local history advocates, but also provided an impetus to developers who recognized that historic buildings could serve as the basis for attractive and economical commercial properties. From the mid-1970s onward, historic preservation became increasingly institutionalized as a planning and development strategy in Pasadena and Riverside. As a result, the Spanish Fantasy Past received new life as a preferred means of revitalizing the cities‘ commercial fortunes through promotion to residents and visitors. However, preservationists worried that the drive to make history profitable compromised its integrity, while developers and members of minority groups contended that regulations put in place to protect historic properties hampered economic growth, or guided it in ways designed to maintain the existing racial status quo. By contrast, interest in historic preservation in San Bernardino remained minimal until Latinos gained a significant voice within the city government in the late 1990s. From that point on, city policy began to emphasize the preservation and development of the few historic properties remaining in the downtown area, in hopes of emulating the success apparent in Pasadena's efforts.
The experiences of all three cities suggest that the success of historic preservation as a planning strategy does indeed reflect the level of homogeneity within a community, but with important distinctions. The community need not be synonymous with the entire population of a city, but may instead refer to a group within the city with access to political and economic influence. Further, the group‘s homogeneity need only be one of shared values, and a shared vision for the city as a whole. It is fair to conclude that preservation on a citywide scale thus depends on the presence of people similar to the early founders and boosters of towns. As with the initial efforts in the nineteenth century, however, success can come at the price of marginalizing residents with differing viewpoints and excluding alternate representations of history that do not support commercial development.
Technical Note: Images included in the study are in .jpeg format.