Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Committee Member

Greg Hise, Chair

Second Committee Member

Todd Robinson

Third Committee Member

Maria Raquel Casas

Graduate Faculty Representative

Andrea Fontana

Number of Pages



This thesis examines the first fifty years of a modest 1950 housing tract of one hundred thirty-nine houses and five commercial lots in Santa Ana, California. I analyzed deeds, maps, newspapers, powers of attorney, building permits, city directories, and promotional material and interviewed nearly one hundred former and current residents to determine who came to Santa Ana in the mid-twentieth century, why they came, and why they stayed or left. Contrary to what contemporary Los Angeles boosters might have thought, mid-century Santa Ana was not simply a suburb of Los Angeles. In 1950 Santa Ana, with 45,533 residents and forty manufactories, was the urban hub for El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) and for growing Orange County. By the end of the century the city’s housing units were the most densely populated in the U.S. My research suggests that between 1950 and 2000 most new residents, including the hundreds of thousands of Marines who transferred to and through El Toro MCAS, followed their jobs to Santa Ana; others came in search of cultural community. My analysis of deeds and interviews indicates that high numbers of active-duty military homeowners altered the community landscape by stimulating frequent housing turnover and a high number of absentee-landlord rental properties that continued through the end of the century.

Historians Becky Nicolaides, Andrew Wiese, Greg Hise, and others who reexamine Kenneth Jackson’s 1985 Crabgrass Frontier identify alternate forms of postwar suburbs that differ from the Levittown model of popular imagery. The Santa Ana tract in this study represents one such variation that was integrated into the city through mixed land use and public through-traffic. In The Suburb Reader (2006) editors Nicolaides and Wiese call for historians to investigate the extent to which the postwar suburban nuclear family accurately reflected the ideal image. Although the Santa Ana developer originally sold houses only to white married couples, most families in this tract did not fit the traditional nuclear family model in several ways. Notably, the tract’s military families with often-absent husbands and fathers deviated significantly from the traditional ideal. However, death, marriage, divorce, migration, and economics affected nuclear family structure and homeownership for most families within the small tract from 1950, before the new houses closed escrow, through 2000, by which time the demographic and built profiles of the tract and the city had changed.


Armed Forces – Economic aspects; California – El Toro Marine Corps Air Station; California – Santa Ana; City and town life – History; Dynamism; Hispanic Americans; Housing; Latino; Metropolitan areas – History; Military; Suburban life; Suburbs – History; Urban


Cultural History | History | Social History | United States History

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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