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The Ranch House

Reprinted in part with permission from Old House Journal, October 1998

California architect Cliff May (1909-1989) is credited with the first modern ranch, built in San Diego in 1932. A prolific designer and promoter, May sold the style he called the early California ranch house throughout the West.

Consciously interpreting the ranchos of the mid nineteeth century, May spoke not only about the architectural form, but also about the casual, family-oriented culture of the early (Mexican) Californians, whose gallant hospitality was legendary. Working in tandem with landscape architects, May designed low houses that followed the contours of the land, enclosing a courtyard or patio with carefully planned views of nature.

Floorplans were open, always with a family room. By the mid-'30s, his ranch houses had been published by Sunset magazine and elsewhere.

The early ranch maintained integrity even as the idea spread to other climates and suburban lots. These traits make a true ranch: ground-hugging, with a low roof and deep eaves; built of local materials (wood, stucco, brick, or stone); anonymous to the street, open to gardens in back; generally one room deep; shaped like an L or U (or splayed) to surround a patio and landscape features; expanses of glass; frank inclusion of cars, children's play areas, etc.

Above Inner courtyard of Barbara and Lee Roper's Cliff May home. Photo by Sandé Lollis

2001 - Volume 32, Issue 3

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Old San Diego Police Headquarters


President's Message


Executive Director Report


Hotel Del Coronado Continuing Saga


Historic Hotel San Diego Awaits the Wrecking Ball

Threat to Agua Caliente


We Called it Caliente


County Historic Site Board Reinstated


Mills Act Notice


Volunteer Appreciation Party


Aztec Brewery Art & Artifact Ensemble


Heritage Park Gets a Facelift


The Ranch House


The Whaley House


Help Furnish the Whaley House


Volunteers Make the Difference


Whaley House Garden Update


SOHO Museum Shop at the Whaley House Grand Opening

Heritage Tourism


Welcome Ranger Berry


Letter to the Editors


In Memorium


Contributors to Success


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