Cliff May’s First Houses – 3130 Shadowlawn Street

The house at 3130 Shadowlawn Street in San Diego is extremely important. It is Cliff May’s first commission as a builder. A native of San Diego, May designed, constructed, and landscaped his first house in 1932. As soon as this house sold, May, who had no architectural training and little building experience, built two more houses on speculation. After visiting one of these homes and impressed with May’s work, John and Florence Beardsley hired him to design a custom home for them in the “hacienda” style, making this the first commission May received and marking an important step in his career.

From this commission, May went on to receive larger commissions, including one from oil industrialist and banker John A. Smith, who would convince May to move his building business to Los Angeles in 1938. Cliff May’s career flourished in Los Angeles and when he died in 1989, friends and colleagues remembered him as “the father of the ranch house.” Consequently, scholars have recently recognized May’s significant contribution for developing the California ranch house and are  looking at his early designs, including his haciendas, to see how his ideas evolved into the popular ranch style we know today.

Alana and Bruce Coons, both of Save Our Heritage Organisation, recently purchased 3130 Shadowlawn Street. Very proud (and rightfully so!) of owning a Cliff May home, they are restoring the house to its 1930s appearance including the decorative painted finishes. They have also nominated their house to the National Register of Historic Places because of its importance to Cliff May’s career. This place matters. I admire Alana and Bruce for their work and wish them the best in their endeavors especially with the Beardsley House.

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