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The Quintessential California Home


Welcome to SOHO’s annual historic home tour. Cliff May probably built or influenced more architecture than any other designer to ever hail from San Diego. Assembled for viewing for the first time are the homes that represent the work of Cliff May’s formative years during which, he developed his signature style. From May’s Californio roots, his efforts to create the quintessential California house emerged the Ranch House craze. This engaged the imagination of the parents of the baby boom generation spread across the country.


This was during the dark days of the depression, when the longing for a more carefree lifestyle became so pervasive that whole new industries sprang up to support the desire for everything that represented a simpler time, in a sunny, romanticized Mexican-era California. These included the widely copied colorful Bauer pottery, Malibu, Catalina, Taylor, D&M, and other California tile companies, floral decorated Monterey and Coronado style furniture, textiles and more with literally hundreds of items now grouped into the broad category of Mexicana. These whimsical items, decorated invariably in the bright California colors of orange, cobalt blue, mustard yellow, and turquoise along with colorful Mexican folk art style decoration throughout the homes provided a much needed visual and psychological escape from the reality of the times. This longing was even celebrated in words and music with titles such as “In My Adobe Hacienda,” “An Old Adobe,” and later “My Little Ranch House.”


The picture was complete with a robust revival of early California style entertaining with Mexican food, music and dancing on the patio, a Spanish word that ws now introduced into the lexicon of American language.


In the 1934 advertisement shown here of his first homes, May extolled, “Restore the romance and charm of Early California design to Modern Living.” Another describes the Lindstrom home, “In the design of this Hacienda, I have taken from the casas of the Dons their traditions of simplicity, lighthearted informality, hospitality and combined with these the convenience we need for the modern art of living.”


Cliff May’s rich architectural legacy of colorful gracious California indoor-outdoor living could have not have had more of an appropriate beginning than the city of San Diego, the “Birthplace of California.”


LeftAdvertisement from July 8, 1934 San Diego Union. Courtesy UCSB iii


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