McMansion Town USA


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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