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Jim Tortolano’s Retorts: McMansion Bling Replacing Blight


There’s a saying about war that goes something like this. Amateurs talk about tactics and strategy, but professionals talk about logistics. Lee was perhaps a little bit smarter than Grant, for instance, but Grant had a lot more guns, horses, soldiers and supplies.

While much of the attention development-wise in this area usually focuses on the commercial aspect of the community – new stores, new entertainment venues – the truest measure of a city’s state is probably its housing stock.

Two interesting trends are developing in the Garden Grove-Stanton-Westminster area. First, the housing market seems to be slowly reviving. Familiar developers like Brandywine and Olson are betting that the new home market is coming back. The Century Village project in Garden Grove’s downtown area is evidence of that.

Also interesting is on the onward march of giant houses, referred to unkindly by some as “McMansions” or (my personal favorite) “garage Mahals.” You’ve seen them all over, but especially in the older residential tracts of the Big Strawberry. Small houses on big lots torn town and replaced by huge houses on big lots.

Drive along Garden Grove Boulevard near 9th Street, or try Loara Street (north of Chapman, east of Brookhurst Street). A row of elaborate new structures, with gables and multiple roofs, fountains, lions, gates, etc. Along Stanford Avenue between Brookhurst Street and Gilbert Street there appears to be a-building the biggest McMansion of them all.

It is still under construction, but you can count at least four garage bays and marvel at the dolphins leaping out of the soon-to-be fountain. Some people find them ugly, but I see beauty there. Someone finds Garden Grove the kind of place to build a castle, and I rather like that.

On a less emotional note, consider this. As older housing stock deteriorates, it must either be fixed up or it becomes a drag on the rest of the community. Replacing the older homes that sit on the city’s typicallylarge lots with newer ones eliminates blight, even as they bring a little bling.


This, of course, is a mixed blessing. Neighborhoods are turning in a rather eclectic hodgepodge of housing styles, and it’s not uncommon to see a two-story palace sitting next to a, uh, underloved, one-story tract house with more weeds than grass in the yard.

I think this is a reflection in part, of housing stock turning over in ownership from the original owners in the Fifties and Sixties to their heirs or people who bought them from the heirs. Some seniors found it difficult for health or financial reasons to maintain their property, or they moved out of the area and rented the property to tenants who were not highly motivated to live in a showplace.

But as time passes and newer owners come along, the picture is changing.

One of the advantages Garden Grove has is that since most of its housing stock was built in the Fifties and early Sixties, the homes were built on big pieces of land, because land was cheap then. Like the oil underneath Brea and Huntington Beach, what’s underfoot is turning into a huge asset.

Oil is a finite resource, so is land. So someday McMansions may not be a curiosity, but commonplace. Maybe someday this will be the new Brentwood, only without the hills. Or O.J.