Chimney Pots on Cliff May Houses

Chimney Pots on San Diego Houses by Cliff May, 1930s.

Chimney Pots on San Diego Houses by Cliff May, 1930s.

The chimneys on Cliff May’s hacienda-style houses sprouted pots in the 1930s, reminiscent of the ones found at the Indian Pueblos of New Mexico. In Spain, the chimneys are typically capped with a gable or conical roof. In Gothic revival or Tudor revival houses, the chimney pots or tops are typically cylinders or square tubes made of terracotta or copper specifically for this purpose. There’s no evidence that Cliff May visited New Mexico and thus it’s most likely that he picked up this idea from the Indian Village at the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, where a “pueblo” featured chimney pots made by the soon-to-be-famous Maria Martinez of New Mexico.

Our survey of houses in San Diego suggest that May’s chimney pots are all different and are most likely actual clay pots whose bottoms have been removed (I’d have to climb onto one of those uneven roofs to confirm this, something I’m not eager to do). The examples here are from Coronado (1), Talmadge Park (2), and La Jolla (3). Not all of his houses feature them, which could be intentional or it could be they were damaged and removed during the years that followed. Although there are several companies today who still make chimney pots, there do not seem to be any making designs similar to the ones used by Cliff May. But looking for chimney pots is fun way to find something unique or personal on a building and some folks have even made it into a serious hobby like birdwatching or baseball statistics. If you’re a fan of chimney pots, check out the Central Pot Spotting Authority of the Great Britain and Ireland and discover their specialized scoring system (Pot #3 would have an Unadulterated Value of 40!).

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