By far the largest single neighborhood of Cliff May homes in Southern California is known as the “Long Beach Ranchos” — but they weren’t always so. The Long Beach neighborhood was originally part of the city of Lakewood and sits near the Northeast corner formed by the 405 and 605 freeways, abutting El Dorado Park. The story of this neighborhood is really symbolic of a generation of homes. It is one of the earliest Cliff May neighborhoods, with homes being built in 1953 but it is also unique, not just because of its size (over 700 homes!) but also because of some of the design changes that appear almost exclusively in this neighborhood.
This neighborhood was developed by Ross Cortese, a developer would later go on to develop a community bearing his name, Rossmoor, but also the Leisure World developments in Seal Beach and Laguna Hills as well as the modernist homes in Anaheim known as the “Frematic Homes.” As the story goes, they set up a small office and the demand for the Cliff May homes was overwhelming. Originally, he had intended to devote a much smaller section of the land to modern ranch homes but consumer demand dictated that he build more of them, even though he was paying a license fee of roughly $500 to Cliff May per home built. $500 may not sound like much, but in the 1950s that was 3-5% of the average home selling price.
Even 60 years later, the homebuilding industry has still not caught up with the original Cliff May prefabricated system. Cliff May shipped precut lumber panels, doors, windows, and other items from a factory. At one point, construction was so brisk in the Ranchos that the factory couldn’t keep up. This is why not all homes in the Ranchos have the patent stamp on the wood framing panels. It was applied at the factory and some panels were constructed on-site, in the neighborhood.
The Ranchos have some unique design features, originally dictated by Ross Cortese. One of these features was the unique open-beam ceilings. These are more than just ceilings which have been opened up…the framing itself and lumber sizes are different from other Cliff May neighborhoods in Southern California. The earlier 1953 homes were built with tongue-and-groove roofs showing through the open beams, but later homes used a unique insulating material called “Celotex” as the decking material, presumably named after it’s cellulose material composition.
The other big change in the Ranchos is the extensive use of Mistlite frosted glass panels. While some Cliff May tracts used these panels as a room divider in the living room, the Ranchos are the only place they were also used as a room divider between the two secondary bedrooms. One thing Cliff May was very good at was understanding the balance between public spaces and private spaces. He wanted open rooms, but rooms that still had purpose and some delineation. The Mistlite panels proved to be the perfect middle ground.
Finally, the Long Beach tract features a unique layout with several “Lanai” models whereby one of the garage stalls is opened up to the courtyard, creating a cool, shady, outdoor lounge space. The long and narrow lot configurations in the Ranchos are ideally suited to position the garage at the front of the house, creating a long L. Today the Ranchos are owned by those in the creative professions and you can see how owners have kept with the spirit of the original designs to create the perfect California lifestyle of indoor and outdoor living espoused by Cliff May.