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First Houses 1932-1936 Recreating an Ancient Mexican Hacienda


by Ann Jarmusch


Designer Cliff May made his name and fortune in Los Angeles, but it was his San Diego roots and upbringing that made the man. A sixth-generation San Diegan, May (1908-1989) was the son of Beatrice Magee and Charles Clifford May. His mother came from the Estudillo and de Pedroreña families, who played a prominent role in California history under Spanish, Mexican and American rule. May spent boyhood summers at his aunt Jane Mcgee’s home at the Los Flores adobe on Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, now part of Camp Pendleton. He also roamed the Santa Margarita ranch house and Casa de Estudillo, two other important adobe haciendas.


May expressed a visceral understanding of what made these earthy, old haciendas with thick walls and low roofs so comfortable to live in when he reminisced about his youth: “The ranch house had everything a California house should be. It had cross ventilation, the floor was level with the ground, and with its courtyard and the exterior corridor, it was about sunshine and informal outdoor living.”


May, who was not trained as an architect, started his design career by designing and fabricating rustic wood furniture. After he began placing this Monterey-style furniture in homes that were for sale, the properties sold fully furnished. The enterprising young man, who had dropped out of San Diego State College due to the Great Depression, soon realized that with partners he had the vision and


Left “In those days when we built a house it would be a $10,000 house, which now would be a $200,000 house, and I had two sheets of paper...and one was a little plot plan and one elevation, or maybe one or two principal elevations of the house (left). We went out to get the building permit...I came in with my drawing...and there were only two pages to look over. There wasn’t big building in San Diego in the thirties. He (the inspector) looked it over, and he said, “This looks pretty good. Do you know how to build it?” I said, “I can build it.” And he said, “OK.” And stamp, stamp, and it was all done. - Cliff May, 1983, Marlene L. Laskey UCLA interviews


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