The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1982, Volume 28, Number 4
Thomas Scharf, Managing Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

Spanish City Planning in North America. By Dora P. Crouch, Daniel J. Garr and Axel I. Mundigo. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1982. Bibliography. Maps. Illustrations. Index. 298 pages, no price.

Reviewed by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Professor of Mexican American Studies, author of The Los Angeles Barrio 1850-1890: A Social History (1980).

Despite the technical sounding title, this book is much more than a dry recital of urban planning history. As it turns out the authors have written a socio-cultural history of urban life in the Spanish far northern frontier, especially in California.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I analyzes the legal contexts of Spanish city planning: the Law of the Indes and numerous ordinances by which the Spanish sought to regulate every detail of town building. This portion presents English translations of rare texts along with commentaries, reproduction of numerous maps and discussion of Iberian, Muslim, Greek, Roman and Indian influences on city planning in America.

Part II is a study of three American cities, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Santa Fe. The fact that these three settlements were so far from the central administrative centers meant that they were less constricted by the letter of the law. Santa Fe blended Italian ideas of Renaissance city planning with those of the Pueblo Indians. St. Louis, a French town until 1702, mixed Gaulic influences with Spanish laws and customs. Los Angeles, being perhaps the most peripheral of the Spanish towns, was freer to deviate from the ordinances. Nevertheless its planning reflected Greek, Roman and Renaissance ideas.

Part III presents a series of essays on the disintegration of Spanish authority in California with discussions of the Church-State controversy, the presidio, and population problems. The authors present a number of new interpretations regarding the social and cultural life in Spanish California. Among them is the view that Spanish population policy was often a conscious attempt at genetic engineering; that the presidial soldiers and Mexican immigrants who came to California were not exactly the créme of Spanish society; that the Church-State conflict in California was partially responsible for the slow growth of the province’s population.

The major strength of this book is that it is a new interpretation of an impressive body of primary source material. It is thoroughly researched, although some, including this reviewer, may have problems in understanding the rationale for the organization of the book. Why did the authors devote an entire chapter to St. Louis, and totally ignore such important settlements as San Antonio, Albuquerque, El Paso del Norte and Tucson?

Nevertheless this book is original enough to warrant its addition to the libraries of those interested in the Spanish presence in North America.