Cliff May moves to Los Angeles

When May moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s on the advice and help of John A. Smith, a former client, his career flourished. 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. 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.” Each house, he claimed, recreated “the romantic charm of early-day California Ranch life” but with all of the modern conveniences. 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. Moreover, he used his house as model for designing over fifty custom homes.

To learn more about the history and design of houses by Cliff May, visit the About Cliff May page.

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