Southern California is famous for its extraordinary architecture, its built history particularly resonant with exceptional examples of Mid-Century Modern residences. It was a fruitful era for many architects with varying focus, some determined to experiment, others concerned with down-to-earth pragmatism. Among them, one prolific builder undoubtedly stands out as someone that combined both tendencies – an architect by the name of Cliff May, also known as the father of California Ranch House, the post-WWII dream home.
A descendant of a family that lived in California for several generations, Cliff May grew up on a sprawling San Diego ranch; intertwined with nature, his upbringing left him with a deep and real love of California living. In one of his interviews, May recalled the home where he grew up in, a U-shaped Adobe style home built around 1860’s, and credited its influence on the way he set out to design homes for his contemporaries: “ The early Californians had the right idea. They built for the seclusion and comfort of their families, for the enjoyment of relaxation in their homes. We want to perpetuate these ideas of home building.”
Cliff May’s path to architecture was far from standard: he first set out to study business, but left school when the stock market crashed in 1929. An aspiring saxophone player, he organized a Cliff May Orchestra and began playing shows around San Diego, while also trying his hand at building furniture. A realtor friend liked the Monterey style pieces and offered to exhibit May’s furnishings at a home that he was trying to sell. The house sold quickly, and Cliff moved the furniture to another one of his friend’s listings. When the second house sold as well, the friend suggested, why doesn’t Cliff build a house himself? Cliff agreed, and thus began an illustrious career.
It is worth noting that building a house in 1930’s California was rather different that it is now, and those that are going through the process to build a new home will marvel at the way that Cliff May went about preparing for construction. Here’s how he described it in a 1982 interview with Marlene Laskey:
“We went out to get the building permit, and I remember Oscar Knecht was the chief building inspector of San Diego. I came in with my drawing, not the first one, but one of the later ones, and there were only two pages to look over. There wasn’t big building in San Diego in the thirties. He looked it over, and he said, “This looks pretty good. Do you know how to build it?” I said, “I can build it.”
The first house that May built sold easily, despite the Depression. Cliff continued his success and went on to construct 50 other homes in San Diego in the next few years. In 1935, he decided to move to Los Angeles, which became his second home. Though he was never licensed as an architect, Mr. May went on to pioneer an architectural style that is coveted to this day, and designed more than a thousand custom and tract homes over the decades of his formidable practice.
Cliff May was passionate about designing for the way that people wanted to live – he built homes that brought pleasure to their inhabitants, providing an equal measure of wide open space to commune with family and friends, a feeling of nature at arms reach, and an ample space for privacy and quiet times. A keen innovator, May was quick to adapt the latest home technologies and incorporate them in his designs. As the Mid-Century Style gained popularity, May embraced the large expanse of glass and sliding doors, developing the iconic look of the California Ranch Style home that know and love today – and which is encapsulated in our current listing, 3032 Shipway Ave in Long Beach.
The home is a part of the coveted Rancho Estates tract in prime Long Beach, a stone’s throw from El Dorado Park and Nature Center and within easy reach of beach and Alamitos Bay. The beautiful residence is thoughtfully refurbished with respect to the original design, and is a great example of Cliff May aesthetic, a spacious, gracious home with a seamless connection to the outdoors. We are delighted to represent this home, and are especially pleased to work with our new team member, Elias Tebache, in bringing it to the market. Elias, who joined Tracy Do Team in November 2017, brings his architecture training and expertise to the table – having guided both buyers and sellers of homes designed by noted architects including Case Study Architect Kemper Nomland, A. Quincy Jones, Claude Oakland and Armand Le Tourneau through numerous successful transactions.
If you are looking for a beautiful Mid-Century Modern home amidst idyllic setting – and just a short drive to the ocean – to call your very own, this is the one. Get in touch if you would like to make a viewing appointment, and, if you need to consult about a purchase or a sale of an architecturally significant home, we are just a phone call (or an email) away, and would love to hear from you.