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The Art and Architecture of Writing
Alan Hess Interview

 

Alan Hess by Nash

 

Alan Hess is a rare talent, he is both a writer and an architect. He has written several important books on architecture, including Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture, The Ranch HouseThe Architecture of John Lautner, Frank Lloyd Wright: Mid-Century Modern, and many others. Alan lives and breaths architecture and design. His mission, if you were to call it that, is to bring architecture—California architecture in particular—and all that it implies (education, preservation, appreciation), to the people. His work is both challenging and rewarding, which is to understand, educate and preserve the magnificent buildings that give life to our great cities, particularly here in Southern California—a place Alan calls home. Alan is a very busy man, always working on at least one major book or project. But he still made time for this interview, which we greatly appreciate.

 

Alan Hess Books

 

Let’s talk about some of the projects you’re working on now.

Right now I’m working on a book about California Modern Architecture, from 1900-1975. Most of the books I’ve worked on until now have been leading up to this idea. I’ve been writing now for thirty years. The first book was, Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture. I’ve mostly dealt with architectural issues in the west and the 20th century, suburbia and vernacular building types and their interaction with the high art architecture. And a lot needs to be said to pull together the entire story. I have a co-author, Pierluigi Serraino, so we’re working on it together.

 

What’s the status of the book now?

It will be published in spring 2017, so right now we’re trying to finalize the text. Hopefully in the next few months it will all come together. It’s a huge project, a little bit crazy.

 

It covers all of California?

Yes. It’s not an encyclopedia. It will give a framework for understanding the whole picture. It won’t include everybody and everything, but it will definitely bring in architects and types of building and trends that have not been given their due credit or attention. But it will include what is absolutely essential for understanding what California architecture in the 20th century was all about.

 

That sounds fantastic. I look forward to reading it. How do you go about constructing a book like this, with a subject so large.

We try to get away from a more traditional chronological architectural history, and away from the monograph of the individual architects, and show instead the inter-relationships between cultural trends, economic trends, demographic trends, as well as the inspirations and ideas of individual architects and their clients as well. The clients have a lot to do with architecture. Pierluigi and I are each writing half in individual chapters, based on what we’re interested in. So now we’re working on pulling it all together and making it cohesive. It’s still an unwieldy mass at this point. But it has a lot of interesting ideas and information.

 

When putting together a book of this size, how do you go about getting the images, permissions, and materials that go along with it?

That’s a very important part of this book. Pierluigi is an expert on architectural photo archives. Many of the sources have been unknown or have been neglected for decades. This book is not going to have the usual, expected photographs. It’s mostly going to be fresh, interesting images that have not been seen for decades—if at all. This will give everyone an idea of how wide-spread, and wide-ranging creative California architecture was in the 20th century. I’m very excited about these photographs. Frankly, though I’m a writer, I know most people buy my books for the photographs. So the publisher is helping to attain a lot of the rights. But we’re coming up with the images ourselves, from these new sources—which is one thing that will make this book exciting.

 

The Googie book has a lot of photographs you took yourself.

Yes, I consider myself an amateur photographer. I mostly take photographs to gather information. And some of the images turn out to be really interesting. I would like at some point to do a photography exhibit at a gallery with some of my older images. I started taking photographs in the 1970s when I was in architecture school. So a lot of the photos I took are of buildings that don’t exist anymore. So they have some value.

 

You studied architecture at UCLA. Where does the writing come from? How did you become a writer?

I’ve always been interested in writing, and I wrote for my high school and college newspapers. But I wasn’t all that good at it, and I didn’t really have something that interested me. But when I got into architecture school, I discovered after a while that I was really interested in writing about architecture, and the ideas of architecture. So I started to get the idea of writing seriously about the subject. There were a couple of books, this is in the late ‘70s, one by Steven Izenour, White Tower, and there was a book by Daniel Vieyra called Fill’er Up. These were small books, but on subjects that had never been written about before. White Tower is about the diner chain, and the other is about gas stations. That sort of vernacular architecture had never been given much serious attention at the time. But I was just fascinated by it. And the other book at the time was Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown. But all of these books helped me understand Los Angeles, where I was living and studying architecture. So the architecture made sense suddenly. And that gave me the idea to use words and writing to analyze architecture, just as engineering equations and scale models are other ways. So writing was another way for me to understand architecture and what you’re designing. And I started looking around for an interesting subject that nobody else had written about.

 

Googie is a classic book for anyone who’s interested in unique and unusual Los Angeles architecture. Now that many of the buildings have been torn down, it’s also historically significant and important.

That’s the thing. It becomes a historical or archival document. Another purpose, as I moved along and became more interested in historical preservation, one of the purposes of my books was to help historic preservationists. So they could go before a city council or planning commission and say look, this must be important, there’s a book written about it. That actually impresses a lot of people. And that was another purpose in writing these books.

 

You also did a follow-up book on Googie.

Yes, the publisher came back to me almost twenty years later, and asked if I‘d like to do an updated version. It was a fantastic opportunity, because my first book wasn’t exactly my best. So it gave me a chance to improve my writing, but also there was so much more research and so much more I knew, I was able to extend the book. It’s at least twice as long as the original.

 

Growing up, did you do any writing? Were your parents writers? What kind of work did they do?

My mother was at home and raised us kids. And my father was an executive at Ford Motor Company. So I was around cars a lot, which I definitely had an interest in,

which also turn up in my books. We would get a new car every year. My brother and I would argue about what color and what kind, or if it had powers windows, which were really big at the time. We lived in California, but we also lived in Detroit for a period of time. We were right in the heart of car culture. My dad was transferred around to different places as I was growing up. So my personal experience of those places – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago – these major car culture cities in which I lived, definitely influenced my writing and understanding of these subjects. The cars I loved most were the 1956 Lincoln Continental, and the 1939 Continental. It was one of the most beautiful cars, and was designed by Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s son. In the last several years, he has become a very important figure to me because he was at the heart of American industry and its economy, as well as American styling and industrial design and aesthetics, as the president of Ford Motor Company. As a sort of relief from working for his father—who was just awful to work for—Edsel would go over to the styling studio and work with the designers. And he actually designed some of the classic cars of the mid century – the Model A, the Lincoln Zephyr, which was one of the first streamlined automobiles, and the Continental. He died young, which is why he’s not as well known or appreciated.

 

So you started writing in high school?

Yes, but it wasn’t until I was in architecture school that I really had a subject that interested me seriously.

 

You’re quite unique in that you’re an architect and a writer – you’re sort of a hybrid – which is great. You’re someone who’s an authority on the subject they write about. What drew you to architecture, or made you want to become an architect? Was it a building or architect you admired?

I’ve always been interested in architecture, not originally as a profession, but as a personal interest of mine. My grandmother always admired Frank Lloyd Wright, and I saw a number of his buildings. I lived in Chicago in high school, and there are a number of his buildings there, as well as Louis Sullivan’s—which are just extraordinary.

And I went to a college that was designed by Bernard Maybeck, the great Bay Area California architect—which was great. There was a history professor there, Charles Hosmer, who was very well known in the preservation field. Everyone has a professor who really inspired them, and he inspired me. It wasn’t until I had to choose between going to law school and architecture school, that I really made the decision.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright was the first architect to inspire you.

Yes. He was a brilliant designer. Just to be inside one of his buildings or houses, we can understand how space and materials and ornament can be orchestrated to make life better. Extraordinary designs. He was a genius. Wright’s whole persona and his family motto was “Truth against the World,” the idea of the artist as the heroic individual, who mastered the problems of the world. And as a young, naïve, idealistic teenage boy, that appealed to me as well. But I got over that, thanks goodness. Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Ayn Rand’s book, The Fountainhead, which I read at the time. I got over that, too.

But it was an important moment for me at the time. I realized that I would never be Frank Lloyd Wright. But I realized that I could be myself. I could follow my own interests in architecture, and be able to contribute something of value. That kept me going. And when I began to write about architecture, I realized I was covering subjects that no one else was writing about. I saw the value in them and was able to express the importance of a diner or a motel or a car dealership. These were structures that almost nobody else had an interest in as far as architecture, but I did.

 

You’ve also written several books on Frank Lloyd Wright.

I saw some photographs by Alan Weintraub. He had a real interest and talent in photographing organic architecture, like Wright’s and John Lautner’s, as well as many others. Organic architecture is very difficult to capture in photography because it’s not designed from one point perspective, it’s something else. So Alan and I got together and started thinking about books we could do together. Later he got a contract to photograph all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings. So that’s where the series of books on Frank Lloyd Wright developed. I came up with a theme for each of the books. One is on his houses, one is on the Prairie School years, the mid century modern houses, the public buildings, etc.

For me it was exciting to come up with something fresh and interesting to say about those structures, and the ideas they had. I enjoyed writing them.

 

Name some writers who influenced your work.

Writers who are also architects or designers, like Esther McCoy, definitely a great writer; David Gebhard, a great historian and author; J.B. Jackson, cultural geographer; and John Beach—not as well known, but a friend of all of those people and a teacher at UCLA School of Architecture where I went. These are all authors who have some background in design, and are able to understand architecture and explain it in a way that art historians writing about architecture missed. They capture something about architecture.

As far as fiction writers, Jorge Amado. I spent time in Brazil, and his fiction about life there really captured the spirit, culture and people of Brazil. I also enjoy reading the fiction and non-fiction of Tom Wolfe.

 

When you start working on a new book, how do you begin – where do you start?

I’ve usually been thinking about it for a while, and I’ll start with some ideas and thoughts in my head. And then I’ll begin to pull together all the ideas I have. I’ll go and visit the buildings or places and see what strikes me. I’ll start talking to experts in the field, or the architects themselves, and in many cases I’ve been able to talk to the original architects. And that can be really fascinating. So it’s just a matter of finding an interesting subject, with something of value there, and trying to make it interesting. For me, writing is a process of discovery. I do not know what I’m going to write when I start. I sort of think as I write and figure out the direction of the project. That’s the fun of it—what makes it interesting. I just dive into the subject anywhere I can, and slowly the whole picture begins to reveal itself. I figure out what are the major points, the major landmarks, etc.

For my first book, I was interested in Googie architecture, but I didn’t know it was Googie architecture, until I started writing and learning more about the subject. I had seen these diners and restaurants before but had never really connected them. I started doing some research on the Bob’s Big Boy on Riverside in Toluca Lake. I called up Bob’s headquarters in Glendale and asked if they knew who the architect of the building was. They said it was Armét and Davis. So I called up Eldon Davis —their firm was on Wilshire Blvd. — and asked if they designed the Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake. He said no, and I thought that was the end of it. But then he said, but we did design Ship’s La Cienega and Norm’s and Pann’s, and he began to give this list of all the coffee shops they designed. And I suddenly realized I had stumbled upon one of the most important designers in the field. It was at that point during the research that it all came together and I realized there was a subject worth writing about. That’s really great when that happens.

 

How did Googie get published? Did you approach a publisher, or did someone approach you?

I did write up a proposal. Barbara Goldstein was the editor of Arts and Architecture at the time, and I told her about my project. So she asked me to write an article about Googie architecture, so that was published. And since I had a published article that gave me a little credibility. So I sent the article along with my proposal to at least a dozen publishers, who had published books on similar types of architecture. I got two responses as I remember, Chronicle Books was one of them. And there was an editor, Bill LeBlond, who saw something in it, so that’s how I got my first contract.

 

When you’re putting a book together, you obviously work at a computer.

My first couple of books I typed. I sat on the floor and edited the pages by cutting them with scissors and taping them together. And then my mother, God bless her, typed it up clean, and I then re-edited it with scissors and tape, and she retyped it. So I went through several drafts that way. That was like in 1984. I think in 1986 or 1987 I got my first computer, which simplified the process by a lot.

I work on a Mac now. I have an iMac, but I really do most of my writing on an iPad. So basically I can go anywhere and write. I used an app called Pages.

 

I’m going to name a few important architects, mostly known for their work in California, and maybe you can say a few words about each one, what they did, etc.

Let’s start with John Lautner, who you also wrote a book about.

John Lautner was one of the greatest architects of the twentieth century. He worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, of course, but what I admired about him, and he told me this, was while he was a student and apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright, he didn’t design that much. He said he was just absorbing and watching. It was only after he left Wright, and moved to Los Angeles and opened his own office, that he then began to really develop his own crucial way of designing. So many people who worked with Wright were so overwhelmed by the brilliance of Wright, that they pretty much just copied Frank Lloyd Wright. But that wasn’t good enough for Lautner. He had to digest it and make those ideas his own, and carried them on further than Wright. That’s one of the things that makes him so, so important. Taking some of those seminal ideas of Wright’s, bringing them to Los Angeles and applying them not only to houses, but also buildings of everyday life, like the original Googie’s coffee shop, and other drive-ins he did, and car dealerships. He saw virtually any kind of architecture as a legitimate architectural challenge to him, and to re-think everything from the fundamentals. I did an articles about him Fine Homebuilding magazine. And there was one house, I think the Mauer house in Los Angeles. And I asked him, where do you start on a design like that? And he said, “The hell if I know. I sweat a lot.” So the idea that someone who was as creative as Lautner, sweated over where to start on a new design, just impressed me to no end. So he took every project seriously in that way to dig down to find something original about it and to translate it into a design.

Sheats Goldstein Lautner House

Sheats Goldstein residence, 1963 – John Lautner, architect

 

Richard Neutra.

Another great Los Angeles architect. I think he is misunderstood. He is usually praised and famous for being an Austrian, and for designing International Style buildings here in Los Angeles. And that’s partly true. But I think what is important about Neutra is not what he learned from studying architecture in Vienna before World War I, but how he responded to the environment of Los Angeles after he arrived here. He was fascinated by our construction methods, our indoor-outdoor lifestyle, our vernacular architecture of drive-ins, billboards and gas stations, and the influence of the car on architecture. He was a good enough architect to be influenced by all the new things going on around him here.

 

A. Quincy Jones.

Another fascinating architect, because of his variety. It was a perfect time in Los Angles, when the city was booming and there were all these different types of buildings. He worked on schools, housing, offices, car dealerships restaurants, you name it. And he was able to design a lot of different things, but in a very individual way. He was in many way Mr. Establishment, dean of the school of architecture at USC, and he had a lot of influence on many other architects – very well respected. Lautner was more a maverick, more on the edge, often misunderstood and criticized for his designs because they were so unusual. And Quincy jones was in the center of the profession. He and Lautner were friends, they appreciated each other’s work. And I think Lautner influenced Quincy Jones early in his career – in some of the early Quincy Jones houses in particular, there’s some very strong Lautnerian ideas about them.

 

Rudolph Schindler.

Schindler is one of my favorite architects. He was a lot like Lautner, but he started twenty or thirty years earlier. So he had a very different sort of career. He was known as a gregarious and fun loving individual, and that comes across in the buildings he designed—very creative.The first time I saw his own house on Kings Road on an architecture tour, and his wife, Pauline Schindler, was still living there, and I met her. I saw the house before it was restored. It’s concrete slab walls tilted up. Some of the interior walls were painted, pink as I recall. And it wasn’t that strongly constructed, so it had been altered over the years. But nonetheless, even through that, I could see that it was sort of the beginning of California Architecture, indoor/outdoor life, the way the outdoors carries into the interior space itself. Just brilliant on Schindler’s part, to be able to put together something like that. And like Neutra, Schindler was trained in Austria before WWI. But he allowed himself to really engage with Los Angeles—and the culture, and the materials, once he got here. I wrote an essay for the L.A. Review of Books, and the title was Schindler Goes Hollywood. And the idea was that Schindler and the other very good architects of California, didn’t just come here and start to do what they had been doing elsewhere. They interacted, and understood, and lived the culture that was here, and that changed their architecture. And schindler is probably one of the very best examples.

 

Gregory Ain.

Ain is another very good California architect. He worked with both Schindler and Neutra. He was a real socialist. A lot of architects that studied with him told me that he really believed, that the purpose of architecture was to improve the life of the average person. And so he tried in a couple of places to do some cooperative socialist housing. He never quite succeeded at it but the designs themselves are very, very nice.

 

Joseph Eichler.

Eichler was not an architect, he was a builder. He hired architects like Quincy Jones, Anshen & Allen, Claude Oakland and others to do his architecture, so he chose the very best. This is not to discredit Eichler, but he was often times credited with bringing modern design to mass produced housing—tract housing. There were a number of other really good architects and builders who were interested in modern mass produced architecture, like William Krisel and Dan Palmer– they were also doing modern tracts, and in some ways even more dramatically modern. There were quite a number of examples of modern architecture available for the average person in tract housing.

 

Palmer and Krisel.

In some ways their work was sort of my discovery during a book I wrote with Andrew Danish, Palm Springs Weekend, on midcentury architecture design. I never heard of Palmer and Krisel until I did the research for that book. They did a number of tract homes in Palm Springs. And fortunately, Bill Krisel is still around, so I was able to get to know him and interview him and see his archives first hand. And learn what it was like. He knew everybody and he did really interesting work himself. Their work deserves a lot more credit because they really did modern architecture. They were really devoted to bringing good modern design to the average person. And that was supposed to be one of the fundamental ideas of modernism, at the very beginning, from the Bauhaus, they were trying to make it for the average person. And Palmer and Krisel were one of the few architecture firms to achieve that. Gregory Ain was a great architect but he was never really able to build on a mass basis, and have that sort of impact. So I admire that, it cements their place in modern architecture in California. They were partners from the 1950s to the early 1960s, then they split and went their separate ways. I was able to interview Dan Palmer as well for a book I did on ranch houses before he passed away. There is a new book coming out in February 2016 about Krisel’s work in Palm Springs, in which I wrote one chapter.

William Krisel House

House designed by William Krisel

 

Cliff May.

Cliff May was a designer, a building designer. He had more impact on architects than most architects knew. And the reason why is fascinating. He did carpentry, he built furniture, he was a musician with a band, and he had an entertainer’s promotional attitude about his work. He understood people. And he was one of the people who understood the power of the image of the ranch house— the California ranch house. They were the adobe haciendas of the nineteenth century, and these wood shacks out in the country. And he realized there was an inherent glamor and certainly an architectural character to them—living indoors and outdoors and simplicity. And he was able to capture that in his custom designed, and mass-produced homes as well.

 

Edward Fickett.

Edward Fickett, is another name that had been long lost in terms of the general public. Certainly other architects knew him. And I was able to write about him in my book about the ranch house, so he could begin to be appreciated for what he really accomplished.

And in fact I grew up in one of his houses in Pasadena, a ranch house tract home. My parent’s bought the house in Hastings Ranch, brand new. And years and years later I had learned that He had designed Hastings Ranch. It’s more of a traditional ranch house, not modern, but nonetheless. He’s definitely one of the major architects of Southern California. His was known for his tract housing, which was quite extensive, and for many other types of buildings. That was one of the reasons I got into writing about architecture in the first place, was to let people know about these neglected talents. They need to be a part of our understanding of Los Angeles.

We need really good books written about these architects, like Edward Fickett and Gregory Ain. In recent years there has been a few good books written about Cliff May. There are a number of architects who deserve really good books. And I try to encourage other people to write them.

 

William Pereira.

I live in Irvine, which is a master planned community designed by William Pereira fifty years ago. It opened in 1965. Pereira was one of the major corporate offices in Los Angeles. He was usually critically neglected and dismissed, and initially, I didn’t think much of his work, until I started to do some research on him. And I began to realize that my entire concept of him was wrong. As I began to look into his buildings when I moved to Irvine, it really spurred more of my interest in his work. He is one of the major Southern California architects who shaped the region. He designed several key buildings that defined the way people lived, worked and played. He designed CBS Television City, a television studio at a time when television was brand new. So he designed this facility that is still in use today, with all the changes in the media. He also designed Marineland, a new type of playground out by the ocean for the citizens of Southern California, this urban metropolis, a place to take the kids, and learn. He designed LAX as well (along with Welton Becket and Paul Williams), he designed this jet port, before the jet airplane was even in use. And then he planned Irvine and the new university there. Suburbia was growing, but it was being criticized. Tract housing was often a hodge-podge, very randomly planned, and not coordinated. And Pereira, as a planner, said we can do better than this. It was sort of miraculous that the new city project of Irvine and UC Irvine came together. It’s a really interesting story. He took the ideas of suburbia and organized its elements in a way that made sense. There was a diversity of housing types. You were part of nature when you lived here with generous greenbelts. You had schools, libraries, shopping, swimming pools — everything you need in life, and you could walk to these places, so you didn’t have to be dependent on the car. This was the early 1960s when he designed all this. It was just extraordinary. In his career he really conceived and developed many of the ideas that made up Southern California. And he did it with style. Another building he designed was LACMA, which is the cultural capitol of Southern California, at a time when Los Angeles was the most modern city in the world. And there’s talk now that they want to tear this down, this cultural icon.

CBS Television City, 1952, designed by William Pereira

CBS Television City, 1952, designed by William Pereira

 

Paul Williams.

The socio and cultural history that his career represents is fascinating. An African American in Hollywood, and what he had to go through to become one of the most successful architects in California, throughout the mid century. It’s a great story, and he was a really good architect. He’s often called the architect to the stars. He built a lot of really big and beautiful, mostly traditionally styled homes. But he did a lot more than that. He did office buildings, he did housing tracts, he also did housing tracts for the African American community, here in Los Angeles, and in Las Vegas. After he stopped doing traditional styles, he adopted modernism, and modern methods, and was just as masterful. He is equally important as a role model and an architect. His influence on other architects is really important. There are a lot of people who got into the business because of Paul Williams.

 

Let’s talk about how you work. How much time do you spend writing each day? How much time do you spend on the internet, doing research? What is a regular work-day like for you?

Well, I spend too much time on the internet. I don’t know if email is really a blessing or not. But I usually start by checking my emails in the morning. I check Facebook. There’s a lot of good information on FB if you look in the right places. There are a lot of good sources for books and information going on now, also historical subjects. I do my creative writing in the afternoon, which includes writing and editing on various projects.

 

What do you know about William Mellenthin?

Not a whole lot, that he was a builder, very successful, building the traditional ranch style homes. When searching for specific information like this, a lot of it can be found on SurveyLA.

But we continually lose archives and historic information on figure like Mellenthin. Many important architects and builders could be lost to history. Like Wayne McAllister, one of my favorite architects. He designed the Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake, and the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. But all of his drive-in restaurants, which were built in the 1930s, which were everywhere, are all gone. There isn’t one remaining. So the information and the buildings are so fragile.

 

Out of curiosity, who designed the Casa de Cadillac car dealership in Sherman Oaks?

Casa de Cadillac was designed by Phillip Conklin with Randall Duell in 1949, it was a collaboration. It was originally called Don Lee Cadillac.

 

What kind of advice do you have for writers today? How to get their work out there and be published.

It’s a lot different from when I first started. Publishing on the internet serves the purpose of getting the information out there the way books once did. I would encourage people to write about architecture. There’s so much we don’t know, and much that we need to document. I was really pleased to learn that some people who’ve written books, were inspired by my work. There’s a book coming out next year on Trousdale Estates that Steven Price is writing. That’s a great subject and deserves to have a book about it, but I just don’t have time to write everything. But thank goodness someone else is doing it. And other people are doing books on Paul Laszlo and Tommy Tomson, for example, fascinating little-known architects. There are plenty of other subjects that people could be writing about, to document—getting it down—for the rest of us to understand.

I didn’t intend to be a writer. I was interested in architecture. And that’s why I write. I don’t write to be a writer, but to further the cause of good design.

 

What other projects/books would you like to work on?

I have a long list of projects I’d like to do. A couple of really interesting architects. The most intriguing subject that I would like to write about is the 1970s and ‘80s of California architecture, that hasn’t really been covered. It was touched upon in the Getty show, Pacific Standard Time, which was a few years ago now. The people are still around and the story has not really been told. And trying to figure out what actually happened in that period, and do it objectively, is a really interesting challenge. Some of these people are around and are telling their own histories, but not necessarily the entire story. So I would love to cover the entire story in context.

 

Alan Hess Books

 

Alan recommends these essential books on Los Angeles architecture:

Five California Architects, by Esther McCoy

Exterior Decoration, by John Chase

Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham

Los Angeles: The City Observed by Charles Moore, Peter Becker, Regula Campbell

Holy Land, by D. J. Waldie

Google: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture, by Alan Hess

 

For more information about Alan Hess.

 


 

 

 

Cliff May House

Designer of the Dream:
Cliff May and the California Ranch House

by Mary A. van Balgooy

 Cliff May

In 1934, Architectural Digest published another edition presenting beautiful black-and-white photographs of elegant houses and imposing buildings by prominent southern California architects. This particular issue included works by Gordon B. Kaufmann, designer of buildings such as the Athenaeum at the California Institute of Technology (1930), Denison Library at Scripps College (1930), and the Times Mirror Building in Los Angeles (1931-1935); George Washington Smith, renowned for his Spanish colonial revival style homes in and around Santa Barbara, Bel Air and Pasadena; and Wallace Neff, noted for his Spanish colonial revival houses in Bel Air and the Pasadena area.1 In addition to these well-known architects, the magazine also featured a house designed by Cliff May, who had no architectural training and little building experience. Moreover, the home included in this publication was only the second house May had designed and built. But it would mark the beginning of a long and prolific architectural career for May. When he died in 1989 at the age of eighty-one, he had designed numerous commercial buildings, over one thousand custom homes, and several tract house plans resulting in more than eighteen thousand tract houses.2 But out of all of his work, this southern California native is best known and remembered for developing the suburban dream home of the 1940s and 1950s—the California ranch house.

Cliff May Sunset office

Cliff May’s family background and childhood greatly influenced his work. Born to Beatrice Magee and Charles Clifford May in 1908 in San Diego, May was a sixth-generation Californian through his mother, a descendent of the distinguished Estudillo and de Pedrorena families of San Diego. Both families not only had served in a number of important military, political, economic, and social positions under Spanish, Mexican, and American rule, but also had owned several large ranchos in present-day San Diego and Riverside counties. In addition, they had owned land in Old Town San Diego and it is here that they had built their main residences: Casa de Estudillo and Casa de Pedrorena. Built after 1845, Casa de Pedrorena was one of the first frame houses in Old Town. Casa de Estudillo, on the other hand, was constructed almost twenty years earlier as a one-story, U-shaped adobe house that was common in southern California throughout most of the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century both families’ vast ranchos had disappeared and only their town houses had survived.3 Furthermore, the Estudillo House was restored as a museum in 1910 and publicized as “Ramona’s Marriage Place,” becoming part of the growing movement to preserve the romance of California’s rancho days.4 Thus, as the young May grew up in San Diego he could easily visit the former houses of his California ancestors.

May became familiar with two other nineteenth-century ranch houses during his youth, too. His aunt, Jane Magee, operated a lima bean farm on Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores in Oceanside. Once belonging to Pío Pico and his brother, Andrés, the rancho included two houses by the time the Magee family leased the property in the 1880s: the Rancho Santa Margarita and Las Flores Adobe. Rancho Santa Margarita, built in succession over time in the nineteenth century, is a traditional U-shaped adobe house while the Las Flores Adobe, built after 1865, is in the Monterey style. It was on this farm that May spent many summers with his aunt living in the Las Flores Adobe and next to the Rancho Santa Margarita.5 As seen in May’s writings and designs, these two ranch houses in addition to the Estudillo House would profoundly shape his ideas on the ranch house of the twentieth century.

Cliff May sign

Even though May excelled in music as a pianist and saxophonist, he followed his father’s wishes and in 1929 enrolled at San Diego State College as a business major. However, he left college after two years primarily because of the economic realities of the Great Depression and “to be on his own.”6 To support himself, May began to design and build furniture, a trade he learned as a young man from his parents’ neighbors, the Styris family, who were professional furniture makers.7

May designed his furniture in the latest style of the 1920s: Monterey. Monterey was originally created by Frank Mason and his son George for the Los Angeles-based, home-furnishing company, Barker Brothers. Influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, early forms of Monterey (1929-1932) are similar to Mission-style furniture except that Monterey is finished with paint, hand-painted flowers, California tile, wrought-iron strapping, and rope decoration.8

To sell his work as well as obtain commissions, May placed his furniture in a new house for sale. When the house sold in part because of the furniture, May installed his furniture into another new house on the market and to his delight that house quickly sold, too. After experiencing such admiration for his furniture, May decided to design and build a house himself and worked out an agreement with real estate developer and his future father-in-law, Roy C. Lichty.9 Lichty, who owned several lots in San Diego that he could not readily sell because of the Great Depression, agreed to put up land and money for May to build a house. In return, May would provide the labor and if the house sold, they would split the profits in half.10 May drew up the plans and with the help of a master carpenter built his first house in 1932 in Talmadge Park, San Diego.11 Filled with May’s handcrafted Monterey furniture, the house sold for $9,500 to Colonel Arthur J. O’Leary.12

Cliff May house

May built his second house in 1933 with financial backing from a local grading contractor, O. U. Miracle.13 The house sold for $9,500 to Captain William Lindstrom.14 A year later, Architectural Digest featured the Lindstrom’s house in its 1934 issue. For a young man in his twenties, May was beginning to enjoy phenomenal success as a builder of houses. In fact, soon after the Lindstrom house appeared in Architectural Digest, other magazines featured May’s houses including American Home, California Arts & Architecture, and Sunset.15

By 1937 May had constructed over fifty houses and several non-residential buildings in the San Diego area.16 His early houses were very much based on the nineteenth-century ranch houses he had come to know in his childhood. Generally, May designed his houses as asymmetrical, one-story dwellings with a low-pitched roof and wide overhanging eaves. One room deep, it was crucial that the house take an L- or U-shaped configuration to form a patio or courtyard in the back so that the rooms of the ranch house faced or opened into these areas. Like the California adobes of the nineteenth century, May’s houses did not include an interior hallway. Instead an exterior corredor or covered veranda served as the primary hallway of the house. May also designed his houses so that they presented a blank façade to the street, however, he modernized his ranch houses with the use of large picture windows for the rooms facing the back.

May built his houses in two styles. His “Mexican Haciendas” were in the Spanish colonial revival style and featured red tile roofs, coarsely plastered walls, and deeply inset windows and doors with rough-hewn wooden lintels and shutters. By deliberately creating a crude, handcrafted appearance on the exterior of his haciendas, May’s houses are very similar in look and feel to nineteenth-century California adobes such as the Estudillo House in San Diego. In contrast, his “Early California Rancherias” resembled the vernacular architecture of the West in the nineteenth century with their wood-shingle roofs and board-and-batten walls.17 Clearly, both styles worked well for May and he continued to elaborate on them after he moved to Los Angeles during this period.

Cliff May ranch plans

When May moved to Los Angeles on the advice and help of John A. Smith, a former client, his career flourished.18 Smith not only provided May with financial backing from his firm, the First National Finance Corporation of Los Angeles, but also introduced him to Alphonzo Bell, real estate developer of Bel Air during the teens and twenties. With Bell’s advice and Smith’s money, May bought land in West Los Angeles and began his first major tract development.19 Called Riviera Ranch, the tract consisted of twenty-four homes on 2/3 to 1-acre parcels of land starting at $15,000. May advertised his development as “Exclusive Early California Ranches in a Planned Community on the last of the Great California Ranchos, San Vicente y Santa Monica.”20 Each house, he claimed, recreated “the romantic charm of early-day California Ranch life” but with all of the modern conveniences.21 One-story and shaped in a splayed U, the Riviera Ranch houses consisted of three or more bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and sunroom. They also had several outdoor patio areas and a garage. The style of the houses reflected May’s work in San Diego. Buyers could chose between a “hacienda” and “rancheria.” But more importantly, May specifically added other elements to this tract development to create “a rancho atmosphere.” Each home included stables, a tack room and paddock for horses; a hand-split redwood rail fence surrounding the lot; and a “ranch” gate which opened to a driveway, horse stables, and paths leading to various horse trails May formed through the development. In addition, May built a home here for his family that was featured in several magazines including Architectural Digest, Architectural Forum, House Beautiful, House and Garden, Sunset, and in both of Sunset’s Western ranch house books.22 Moreover, he used his house as model for designing over fifty custom homes.23

Although May continued to design houses for middle-to-upper-class clients, he also began to design for another profitable and large segment of the building market—the average American family. After examining the residential construction market in 1939, Architectural Forum selected one of May’s recently built houses as a “satisfactory low cost house.”24 The house, under 1,000 square feet, consisted of a living room, kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms and a bath at a cost of $3,550—a price according to Architectural Forum that met “the $35-a-month budget of the average U. S. citizen in the average U. S. community.”25 Unfortunately most American families would have to wait to enjoy such a home for World War II curtailed the construction of houses. May like other architects at the time, therefore, turned his attention to designing housing for defense workers.26

Once the war ended, housing had reached a critical situation. Residential construction had fallen far behind due to depression and war.27 Millions of families needed homes and it was in this atmosphere that the ranch house grew extremely popular and Cliff May enjoyed incredible success. Although many magazines would publicize May’s ranch designs, two major magazines particularly promoted him so that he became recognized as the leading designer of ranch houses in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States.28

Cliff May ranch home

Sunset magazine was May’s first major promoter. After World War II, Sunset was the top selling magazine in and of the West. Each month Sunset presented topics for its male and female readers on travel, food, houses, and gardens.29 Beginning in 1944 Sunset devoted several major articles on the ranch house and Cliff May.30 In 1946, Sunset magazine published Sunset Western Ranch Houses in collaboration with May. The book consisted of forty-three ranch house plans designed by various architects and builders, however, Cliff May’s work dominated with at least seventeen designs.31 Sunset Western Ranch Houses found instant success: 50,000 copies sold and it went through four printings.32

Throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s Sunset continued to promote May’s ranch houses in magazine articles and by hiring him in 1951 to design their new corporate headquarters in Menlo Park. When completed, Sunset offered daily tours of its new 30,000 square-foot “suburban Western home” to the public and actively publicized it in their magazine.33 Clearly, May was one of the magazine’s favorite builders because in 1958 when Sunset produced one more book on Western ranch houses, it featured only Cliff May’s designs.34

Sunset magazine may have launched the ranch style and May’s designs in the West, however, it was House Beautiful that gave May’s ranch houses national attention. A Hearst magazine dedicated to home design and decoration, House Beautiful first did a full-length feature on Cliff May in 1946. Titled “Meet a Family That Really Knows How to Live,” the 26-page article focused on how May and his family lived in their Riviera Ranch home.35 But it was in 1948 that House Beautiful advanced May’s career when it built one of his ranch designs in Los Angeles. Called the “Pace-Setter House,” House Beautiful not only devoted a full issue to the house but also let the public tour the home they decorated, furnished, and landscaped.36 The house, like Sunset Western Ranch Houses, was an instant success with the public. After the article was published, May received twenty commissions to build this design all over the United States.37

Cliff May traditional ranch

With all of the attention May received after the war, it is important to ask why the ranch house appealed so much to the postwar generation. Certainly, magazines played a major role with their admiring articles on the ranch house.38 Movie stars like Olivia de Havilland and Gregory Peck, who lived in ranch homes, also added to its attraction.39 But more importantly, the ranch house with its rambling, open plan and walls of windows became associated with “the California way of life” of living casually, comfortably, and out-of-doors. After living in cramped accommodations, often with relatives, the ranch house seemed to fulfill the postwar buyer dream of enjoying wide, open spaces indoors and out all year round without the formalities associated with other house styles. And one did not need to live in California to enjoy ranch house living. As long as a family lived in a ranch house built with the latest technological advances in heating and cooling, they could enjoy ranch house living anywhere in the United States.40

And May designed what the public wanted. By the 1940s, he had largely abandoned the formal Spanish colonial revival style. Instead, he expanded on the vernacular architecture of the nineteenth-century West on the exterior of his houses with International Modern ideas for the interior. Hence, during this period, May’s houses are typically one-story dwellings with low-pitched, wood-shingle roofs and board-and-batten walls. On the interior, his houses are designed with free-flowing open plans, walls of windows (the larger size as well as quantity), and indoor spaces connected to the outdoors by the use of the same paving materials inside and out, extension of indoors planters to the outdoors, and arrangement of sliding glass doors leading into the backyard garden.41

In 1952, May’s ranch houses became available on a much wider basis for the middle-class American family. May, along with his associate architect Chris Choate, designed a suburban tract house. A subdivision using the plan was then built in Cupertino.42 Because of the success of this project, May and Choate formed the Ranch House Supply Corporation in 1953 to sell their designs in California to licensed builders. Success struck again. Before the year was out, May and Choate had sold their plans to nearly thirty builders throughout California. Thus, May and Choate expanded their company in 1954 to include the West and southern areas of the United States.43

Cliff May advertisement

May’s success as a suburban tract designer continued with the “Magic-Money House.” In 1953, the W & J Sloane Furniture Company constructed, furnished, and landscaped this ranch design on the roof of their six-story Beverly Hills store building.44 Advertised as a house for “young people with young incomes,” the Sloane company estimated that 35,000 people had visited this two-bedroom model house only four months after its opening. As a result, W & J Sloane built another Magic-Money House for their store in San Francisco. But this was not the only promotion that May received for the house. As W & J Sloane promoted the design, several subdivisions of Magic-Money Houses were built throughout California. By 1954 over one thousand Magic-Money Houses had been built. Moreover, the house received additional recognition when it was selected for exhibition at the Ninth Annual Los Angeles Home Show in June 1954.45

As the Magic-Money House grew in popularity so did Cliff May and the ranch house. In 1955, more than eight out of ten tract houses built in the United States were in the ranch style and Cliff May was the leading designer.46 Not only could May point to the number of ranch houses and non-residential buildings he designed and built but also the professional appointments he served and awards received. From 1940-1950 May was president of the Los Angeles division of the Building Contractors Association and from 1946-1952 a staff consultant to House Beautiful magazine. In 1947, 1952, and 1953 May won design awards from the National Association of Home Builders. Later he received an Award of Merit for Residential Design and Construction from House and Home in 1956 and the “Hallmark House” award from House and Garden in 1958.47 But, by far, May’s greatest success occurred when Sunset magazine produced a second Western ranch house book that featured his work exclusively—an accomplishment few architects have achieved.

Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May presents a broad sampling of May’s postwar work as well as the evolution of his Modernist ideas towards housing. The most important and creative of these are the ranch houses he designed for his family. In 1949 May remodeled his Riviera Ranch House in West Los Angeles expanding on the indoor-outdoor living concept by replacing fixed windows with sliding glass doors and enlarging the patio area in the backyard.48 However, May went even further with “bringing the outdoors in” as well as the idea of open planning when he built an “Experimental House” for his family in the early 1950s.

Cliff May house

A bold design, May created this house as a one-story, rectangular plan with a 288-square-foot open skylight down the center of the roof, glass walls, and only three interior walls for two bathrooms and a kitchen. Consisting of approximately 1,800 square feet of living space, May’s family of five formed different rooms through the use of movable partitions. The family lived in the house for two years while May learned how his open plan and sizeable skylight worked for the family.49 From their experiences May designed and built “Mandalay,” his last home for his family.

Mandalay integrated the design of the Experimental House with May’s latest thinking on the ranch style and Modernist ideas. Built in Sullivan Canyon in West Los Angeles in 1956, May designed Mandalay as a one-story dwelling with wings projecting at right angles from a central spine.50 He covered the low-pitched roofs with pebbles from a California creek bed and in two sections he cut skylights extending from one end of the roof to the other. He also extensively utilized glass walls, sliding glass windows, and indoor/outdoor planters—all design elements used in the Experimental House. More importantly, May added a new concept to the idea of bringing the outdoors in. Not only did he use the same paving materials inside and out but also the same ceiling and wall materials. Wooden roof beams and rafters as well as board-and-batten and white-plastered walls flowed from the outdoors in. Moreover, May included radiant heating in the patio terraces and outdoor lighting; ideas that he used in his other homes to make the outdoors feel as part of the indoors at night.

In arranging the rooms of the house May combined open planning with private spaces for the family. A large house, consisting of 6,300 square feet, May designed the entry, kitchen, and living, dining, and family rooms as one open area with no intervening doors. However, in creating spaces for the bedrooms, dressing rooms, and bathrooms, May did not make use of partitions as he had in the Experimental House. Instead, he built interior walls and doors to provide privacy for these rooms.

Cliff May ad

What is most interesting about Mandalay was May’s ideas about the ranch style. Although May designed the house as an asymmetrical, one-story dwelling, the plan was complex, forming courtyards on both sides of the house rather than having the main courtyard in the center. The roof was low-pitched with wide overhanging eaves but covered with rock rather than wood shingles. May included board-and-batten as well as white-plastered walls but felt that he needed to give the house “a sophisticated touch of the [Spanish] past.” To achieve such a worldly look, he added Spanish, Mexican, and French architectural crafts and decorative elements: a sixteenth-century Gothic grille, historic doors, lighting fixtures, and wrought-iron door handles, and antiquated books.51 Indeed, May’s California ranch house of the 1950s resembled a Contemporary Modern house rather than a nineteenth-century California adobe that he once strove to emulate in the 1930s.

Throughout the rest of his life, Cliff May would continue to design award-winning houses and non-residential buildings, including the famous Robert Mondavi Winery building that has appeared on Mondavi wine bottle labels since the 1960s.52 Yet, May was more than a designer of ranch houses and commercial buildings. He was an innovator, too. During his career he developed new flooring, heating, cooling, lighting, and wall systems. He also experimented with modular and prefabricated construction after World War II.53 And he continued to design and build furniture.54 But because May did not become a licensed architect until 1988, a year before he died, he never received recognition for his designs nor innovations by the profession’s association, the American Institute of Architects.55 In addition, although scholars recognized May’s contribution for developing the California ranch house, the style itself was generally considered a vernacular rather than an exceptional or significant architectural style, and thus, not truly worthy of a lengthy study. However, this is beginning to change.

The California ranch house has reached its fiftieth anniversary, prompting a growing fascination in this “new” historic architectural style and Cliff May. Indeed, local historical groups have begun to arrange lectures about May and organize tours to view his works. Hennessey & Ingalls, a company that specializes in republishing “classic” architectural books, lately reprinted Sunset Western Ranch Houses and Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May making them available again to the general public. Moreover, two of May’s houses—the Lindstrom House and Experimental House—were recently listed as historic landmarks.56 Most of all, historians are now seriously researching the ranch style and interpreting it as the significant architectural style of the 1940s and 1950s. As a result, they are recognizing Cliff May for not only defining the California ranch house but also as the major designer of the American dream home of the 1940s and 1950s—a style that is still built extensively today.

 

This article was originally published in the Southern California Quarterly 86, no. 2 (2004). No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author.

 

BIO

Mary van Balgooy

Mary A. van Balgooy is an award-winning museum professional who has worked in a variety of institutions, including archives, botanic gardens, historic houses, historical societies, museums, preservation organizations, universities, and governmental agencies at city, county, and federal levels with major responsibilities for administration, collections, education and interpretation, fundraising, preservation, and public relations.

Mary is vice president of Engaging Places, LLC, and the first executive director of the Society of Woman Geographers (SWG), an international membership association based in Washington, D.C.

More on Cliff May

 

 

Notes:
1 Architectural Digest IX [1934]. For more information on these architects and their designs see David Gebhard and Robert Winter, Architecture in Los Angeles: A Compleat Guide (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1985), 18, 122, 232, 339, 375, 415.
2 May’s career spanned almost sixty years. Sam Hall Kaplan, “Cliff May: Designer of Dream Houses,” Los Angeles Times, 29 October 1989, sec. K; Brendan Gill, “Remembering Cliff May,” Architectural Digest 48 (May 1991): 30.
3 David Bricker, “Cliff May” in Toward a Simpler Way of Life: The Arts & Crafts Architects of California, ed. Robert Winter (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), 283; R. W. Brackett, A History of the Ranchos of San Diego County, California (San Diego: Union Title Insurance and Trust Company, 1939), 22-25, 64-66; “Casa de Estudillo,” 1999-2001 <http://www.sandiegohistory.org/links/oldtown.htm#estudillo> (30 December 2001); Sally B. Woodbridge, California Architecture: Historic American Buildings Survey (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1988), 202-203.
4 Sally Bullard Thornton, “Hazel Wood Waterman” in Winter, ed., Toward a Simpler Way of Life, 221-223.
5 Kathie Graler, “Spanish Missions and Adobe” in Settler Communities in the West, July 1994, <https://www.denix.osd.mil/denix/Public/ES-Programs/Conservation/Legacy/Settler/sett6.html> (22 Jan. 2002); Cliff May, interview by Marlene L. Laskey, 1984, Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, viii.
6 Bricker, “Cliff May,” 284. In his oral history, May stated he took all upper division business courses when he first enrolled. After completing those courses he did not want to take the basic requirement classes for his degree because he was impatient to get out into the world. May interview by Laskey, viii, 79.
7 Ibid., 81.
8 Roger Renick, “Monterey Furniture: California Spanish Revival, 1929-1943,” West Coast Peddler 31 (March 1999): 51-57; Robert L. Smith, et al., Monterey: California Rancho Furniture, Pottery and Art (exhibit catalogue) (Santa Monica: Santa Monica Heritage Museum, 1989).
9 May married Jean Lichty in 1932 at the San Diego Mission. Lecture presented by Jody Greenwald, Mount St. Mary’s College, California, 23 September 2000.
10 May interview by Laskey, 81-83. The history of who May worked with to install his furniture in model homes as well as construct his first house is unclear. In his oral history May states that he placed his furniture in the house of a friend O. U. Miracle, who was a realtor. It was Miracle who then introduced him to his future father-in-law, R. C. Lichty. However, David Bricker writes that May placed his furniture in one of Lichty’s model homes and that May worked in partnership with Miracle, who was Lichty’s grading contactor to design and build the O’Leary house. Bricker, “Cliff May,” 285.
11 At this time, one could practice architecture if one notified the client in writing that one was not an architect. In his oral history May commented that he drew up simple floor plans that would not pass inspection today. In addition, his friend and “mentor,” William F. Hale, taught him how to construct this house. The building of the house started in 1931. May interview by Laskey, 85, 90-91, 93.
12 Ibid., 83; David Bricker, “Built for Sale: Cliff May and the Low Cost California Ranch House” (Master’s Thesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1983), 111, n. 28.
13 “Cliff May, Miracle Company” advertisement in Architectural Digest IX [1934]: 84.
14 Bricker, “Built for Sale,” 111, n. 28.
15 “Haciendas & Rancherias By Cliff May, Honors by the World” advertisement in Architectural Digest IX [1937]: 160.
16 May’s non-residential works included a women’s club building and two motels. May interview by Laskey, viii; Bricker, “Built for Sale,” 111, n. 28; 115, n. 35.
17 Many people today associate board-and-batten siding with the frontier West. However, board-and-batten became popular during the picturesque movement with the Gothic revival style (1840-1875) and spread to the West as Americans settled on the frontier. William H. Pierson, Jr., Technology and the Picturesque, the Corporate and the Early Gothic Styles, vol. 2 of American Buildings and Their Architects (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 304, 454.
18 John A. Smith was an oil industrialist and banker. He hired May to build a home for him in La Habra after visiting one of May’s completed projects in Presidio Hills, San Diego. Bricker, “Built for Sale,” 112, n. 29.
19 May also built houses in other areas (one in Bel Air and one in Mandeville Canyon) when he first arrived in Los Angeles. Ibid., 12, 112, n. 29; Gill, “Remembering Cliff May,” 30.
20 The development was located on Sunset Boulevard across from the Riviera Country Club Polo Fields. “Open for Inspection, Urban Model Ranch” advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, 20 October 1940, sec. 5.
21 Ibid.; Cynthia Castle, “The Times Home Hunter,” Los Angeles Times, Sunday, 17 November 1940, sec. 5.
22 This was not May’s first house in Los Angeles. When May moved to Los Angeles, he constructed a house in Mandeville Canyon. Soon after the completion of the Riviera Ranch house, May sold his house and moved to the tract development. “Residence of Mr. and Mrs.
Cliff May, Mandeville Canyon,” Architectural Digest X [1935]: 52-53. Magazines that featured May’s Riviera Ranch house: “Modern Ranch House of Mr. and Mrs. Cliff May, Riviera Ranch, West Los Angeles 24,” Architectural Digest XI [1935]: 4-9; “House in West Los Angeles, California,” Architectural Forum (December 1944): 134-135; Helen Weigel Brown, “Meet a Family That Really Knows How to Live,” House Beautiful (April 1946): 74-99; “Streamlining the Ranch House,” House and Garden (November 1941): 20-21; “What’s the Future of the Ranch House?,” Sunset (June 1944): 10-13; and “More About the Ranch House,” Sunset (June 1944): 38-40. Sunset’s two books are: The Editorial Staff of Sunset Magazine in collaboration with Cliff May, Sunset Western Ranch Houses (1946; reprint, Santa Monica, CA: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1999) and The Editorial Staff of Sunset Magazine and Books under the Direction of Paul C. Johnson, editor of Sunset Books, Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May (1958; reprint, Santa Monica, CA: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1997).
23 Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May, 25. May would remodel Riviera Ranch in 1949.
24 “50 Low Cost Houses,” Architectural Forum 70 (April 1939): 263.
25 “50 Low Cost Houses—House in San Diego, California, Cliff May, Designer,” Architectural Forum 70 (April 1939): 276; “The Low Cost House,” Architectural Forum 70 (April 1939): 261.
26 May’s commissions included temporary barracks in Glendale, a one bedroom duplex development project for Ontario, and single-family defense houses in Wilmington. Bricker, “Built for Sale,” 14-15.
27 Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 232.
28 Other magazines that featured May include Good Housekeeping, Architectural Record, Pic, Better Homes and Gardens, House and Home, Life, and American Home.
29 Cissie Dore Hill, “Sunset: A Century of Western Living, 1898-1998,” California History 78 (Summer 1999): 95-96; Tomas Jaehn, “Four Eras: Changes of Ownership,” Sunset Magazine: A Century of Western Living, 1898-1998: Historical Portraits and A Chronological Bibliography of Selected Topics (Stanford: Stanford Libraries, 1998), 90, 100.
30 “What is the Western Ranch House,” Sunset (February 1944): 12-13; “Is Ranch House the Name for It?,” Sunset (May 1944): 10-13; “What’s the Future of the Ranch House?,” Sunset (June 1944): 10-13; “More About the Ranch House,” Sunset (June 1944): 38-40; “The Changeable, Flexible Ranch House,” Sunset (July 1944): 10-13.
31 The second architect to have the most designs published was Worley Wong with four. Sunset Western Ranch Houses, 30-160.
32 “The Ranch House, Early California to Today,” Sunset (August 1988): 144.
33 “Sunset Magazine Has a New Home in the Country,” Sunset (August 1951): 29; “On the Next Pages . . . We Invite You on a Walk Through Sunset’s New Home,” Sunset (August 1952): 47-54.
34 The second book on ranch houses was titled Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May.
35 Brown, “Meet a Family,” 74-99.
36 “A House to Set the Pace,” House Beautiful (February 1948): 61-71; “The Advantages of Turning Your Back on the World,” House Beautiful (February 1948): 88-89; “A Four-Way Kitchen,” House Beautiful (February 1948): 106-107; “Advanced,” House Beautiful (February 1948): 110-111. The Pace-Setter House was then sold. It still stands today in Los Angeles and is a private residence.
37 Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May, 66.
38 From 1945 to 1947 magazines referred to California domestic architecture four times more than any other state. Thomas Hine, “The Search for the Postwar House” in Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses, ed. Elizabeth A. T. Smith (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1989), 172.
39 Ibid.; Anne Edwards, “Gregory Peck: To Kill a Mockingbird’s Oscar Winner in Pacific Palisades,” Architectural Digest 53 (April 1996): 166-171, 296.
40 Clifford Edward Clark, Jr., The American Family Home, 1800-1960 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 210-211; Gwendolyn Wright, Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1981), 242, 253.
41 Lesley Jackson, ed., ‘Contemporary’: Architecture and Interiors of the 1950s (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1994), 19, 23-25.
42 Sunset magazine featured the house for their cover article. “More Living Space,” Sunset (November 1952): 44-47.
43 Chris Choate started working for May after World War II. He became May’s associate architect in 1949 and their business relationship lasted until the mid-1950s. Bricker, “Built for Sale,” 14, 82, 85.
44 “Look What’s on Sloane’s Roof!” advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, 21 June 1953, sec. 5. The store was located at 9560 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills.
45 Bricker, “Built for Sale,” 87-88, 91.
46 Ibid., 81. The design and look of the ranch house in other parts of the country did vary according to climate and tastes.
47 May interview by Laskey, ix.
48 Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May, 24-39.
49 Ibid., 126-131.
50 In Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May, Sunset states that the house was built in 1956. However, other sources including photographs by Julius Shulman indicate that Mandalay was completed by 1953. Ibid., 142; Lecture by Jody Greenwald, 23 September 2000.
51 Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May, 142-159. May lived in Mandalay until his death in the 1980s. During the time that he lived there, he remodeled the house thirteen times. In 1994 the house was demolished. Lecture by Jody Greenwald, 23 September 2000; Annette Andreozzi, “Cliff May’s Definitive Ranch House Demolished,” Los Angeles Conservancy News 17 (May/June 1995): 4.
52 David Colen, “View from Wappo Hill,” Architectural Digest 46 (May 1989): 276-282.
53 May interview by Laskey, xi.
54 Laura Tanner, “Outdoor Furniture That Can Stay Out,” House Beautiful (May 1950): 160-166.
55 Kaplan, “Cliff May,” sec. K. When May moved to Los Angeles he built a house in Bel Air that received a lot of publicity. Apparently some local members of the A. I. A. did not like all the attention May was attracting nor the liberal use of the title “architect” attached to his name since he was not licensed as one. Thus, they threatened May with a lawsuit. Fortunately, May’s friend John Smith stepped in and had his attorneys clear any grievance against him. However, May would not be allowed to use the title “architect,” only designer or builder. Bricker, “Built for Sale,” 12, 113, n. 30; Gill, “Remembering Cliff May,” 30.
56 The Lindstrom House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on 13 February 2001 and the City of Los Angeles Cultural Commission designated May’s Experimental House as a Historic-Cultural Monument in May 2002.

 

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