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Color me purple

Raspberry. Tangerine. Banana. Plum. We're talking exterior house colors, not Carmen Miranda.

But the Day-Glo palette has the mayor and some residents of South Gate, Calif., seeing red.

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This mostly Hispanic, working-class neighborhood near Los Angeles is riven along color-preference (not racial) lines. Mayor Henry Gonzalez (Abode: light blue with white trim) has been hearing from irate residents forced to wear sunglasses when looking at their neighbors' homes. Mr. Gonzalez favors reducing the wattage, saying it will "upgrade" the community.

But those who prefer vibrant to vanilla are getting their bristles up, too. They like what they like. Their the argument: A man's house is his castle - whatever the color.

Apparently, South Gate's spectrum extremists are trendsetters. "People are taking more risks with their colors. They're gaining confidence," says Leslie Harrington, director of color at Benjamin Moore & Co., a paint manufacturer.

Why? Technology has broadened the palette of available house paints and the public, devouring home-design magazines and television shows, is developing more chromatic courage. Folks are trying "shadow colors," painting the trim in shades of the main color.

"And they're starting to stand up for their color rights," Ms. Harrington says. She won't publicly endorse sorbet hues for everyone. But she lauds the adventuresomeness when it's done "tastefully."

So do I. It's not that I want a house with a bubble-gum complexion. Nor do I particularly want one next door. But I might, some day.

One homeowner's exterior art may be another's obscenity. But a house is one of the few places where one's individuality can be freely expressed. As tensions rise between the historical purists, gated-community standard-bearers, and the garish nonconformists, a Supreme Court freedom of speech case must surely lie ahead.

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I'll be rooting for the folks who favor paints inspired by tropical fruit and parrots.

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