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P.O. Box 15967
San Diego, CA 92175
Phone / Fax (619) 269-3924


Hugh B. and Zula B. Styles House

Hugh B. and Zula B. Styles House

Cliff May and Chris Choate, Designers and Architects

Jack Benson, Contractor
and San Diego County Area Distributor for
Cliff May-Chris Choate
Ranch House Supply Corporation

1953 Mid Century Modern Ranch House
Prefabricated / Custom Design
Model 3212A

La Mesa / Boulder Heights Community

Designated by the La Mesa Historic Resources Board Review November 2008

The Hugh B. and Zula B. Styles House, 1953

Permission to use this material is granted if the following citation is given:

Copyright Legacy 106, Inc., 2008, Ronald V. May and Dale Ballou May

Because of the intense interest in houses by Cliff May, Legacy 106, Inc. is making this study available for other researchers of the topic because of the new information it contains on the subject. Please use the citation listed above if using this material.


8545 Chevy Chase Drive
La Mesa, California

The Hugh B. and Zula B. Styles House (Styles House) is set in a row of relatively modern homes on a steep hillside that continues downward across the street to the north. Tall trees, mature shrubs, and various plants form the neighborhood landscape. The setting of the house in this steep Boulder Heights neighborhood includes lush landscaping vegetation and gardens, water pools, and stone sculptures - as viewed through the many glass windows and easily accessed on each elevation by double doors, bringing the outdoors to the inside. Whether standing on Chevy Chase Drive or walking around 8545 Chevy Chase, one can experience an historical sense and feeling for early Post World War II Mid Century Modern housing. Veterans of that war believed America owed them time and space for relaxation and peaceful comfort, which modernist houses provided.

The Styles House can be classified as a Mid Century Modern style ranch house and the Cliff May-Chris Choate architectural plans date the building to 1953 (with a later addition in 1963). The Notice of Completion is dated March 8, 1954. The contractor was Jack Benson, Area Distributor for Ranch House Supply Corp. / Cliff May-Chris Choate for Hugh B. Styles (Book 5167 Page 540 Document No. 31505; La Mesa Scout, June 18, 1953).

The Cliff May design of the house is for an L-shaped Mid Century Modern ranch house on a slab foundation with redwood walls, modern high-fired brick fireplace and chimney, large glass windows to "bring the outside in," and lightly finished natural woods in the walls, ceiling, and kitchen to complement the views of lush vegetation outside. It is based on May-Choate’s Plan Number 3212A. The design set the house nestled in a steep hillside and the carport directly facing Chevy Chase Drive. Although there is a 43-year old western addition, the public view from the street barely includes this aspect of the design, as Hugh Styles retained the May-Choate designed west wall and simply extended the middle to accommodate a new bedroom, kitchen nook, and front doors. Moreover, Styles respected the design when he designed and built the addition. Although he designed a new front entryway and door in the addition, the design remains a very good example of Mid Century Modern residential architecture from the post World War II era of California history.

This particular custom-designed and built pre-fabricated house represents the transition period from Cliff May’s Mexican hacienda style business of custom home building to the more modernist pre-fabricated Western Ranch under his trademark "Cliff May Homes." This home marks the first year of May's career which evolved into his famous tract housing of the Southern California region that grew in phenomenal popularity across America in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The house exhibits composition shingle roofing on a post and beam structural system; redwood siding and redwood-framed windows and sliding doors; a redwood ceiling/roof beam; redwood framing of the windows on the west end; a wide brick fireplace and chimney composed of high-fired ceramic brick; the original sheet rock/drywall ceiling and walls; wood sliding doors on interior storage areas; the original slab concrete foundation and deck. The staircase leading up to the house is the original cast cement block retaining walls with cast concrete stairs and a modern steel security gate. Styles accomplished the western extension by splicing the ceiling beams and using the original May-Choate designed west wall of multiple glass windows held in place with redwood framing.

The workmanship on the exterior exhibits high pre-fabrication production skills in the execution of the post and beam structure, vertical board-and-batten siding, window and door framing, interior wood-working, and chimney masonry. Moreover, the artistic creation of landscaping and water features in coordination with architectural windows and glass double doors achieved one of the classic Mid Century Modernist goals of enabling the occupants to experience and enjoy the privacy of lush outdoor gardens as an intimate extension of the inside the house.

Statement Of Significance: This Mid Century Modern Ranch style of house is significant because it is an excellent example of a Ranch kit house designed and pre-fabricated by Master Architect Cliff May and his partner Architect Chris Choate in 1953, the first year May shifted his career from a home builder to a manufacturer and distributor of prefabricated "Cliff May Homes." Until now, the contractor, Jack Benson, has also not been identified in any previous study as the Area Distributor for Cliff May-Chris Choate’s Ranch House Supply Corporation. Thus, this house and nomination bring forth important new information about the career of both May and Choate, as well as Benson, in their partnership to bring pre-fabricated low cost homes to the American market under the new concept of their franchised homes.

The house is in excellent condition and meets all of the Secretary of the Interior’s seven Standards for integrity of Design, Location, Materials, Workmanship, Feeling, Setting, and Association. It is the only known example of May and Choate’s Ranch House Plan No. 3112A which was updated to Plan 3212A (3 bedrooms/2 baths) in the City of La Mesa, or San Diego, for that matter. Later publicity from 1955 would advertise Plan No. 3112 and 3212, however this is a unique design because May and Choate modified their original design for Hugh Styles late in 1953 to accommodate a carport and front entry steps. Thus, this house represents a hybrid between the custom designs of May’s earlier career and the new pre-fabricated mass produced lines May and Choate were just beginning to give widespread distribution. Styles originally had designed as three bedrooms one bath and then modified his plan request to three bedrooms two baths.

While the City of San Diego’s Modernism Historic Context Statement listed seven Cliff May San Diego projects, only one is designated on their historical register. Another has been designated by the County of San Diego, but this was built in Rancho Santa Fe in 1975, decades after the Period of Significance relevant to the Styles House. The house at 8545 Chevy Chase Drive in La Mesa is one of a few known notable examples of Mid Century Modern Ranch style houses by May in La Mesa. To date, the City of La Mesa has not included any Cliff May homes, or modernist architecture for that matter, on their historical register.

This house represents the period in May’s career when he partnered with Choate to design "low cost housing," (as stated on the design plans), in models that were livable and informal, rustic yet beautiful, and pre-fabricated. The open designs took into account California’s splendid climate for light, ventilation, and indoor-outdoor enjoyment with liberal use of landscaped private garden patios in the front, side, and rear elevations. These houses were revolutionary for the Post War period because they significantly lowered building costs by delivering packages of pre-cut wood lumber and pre-assembled panels and materials, such as the necessary framing, hardware, and fixtures that could easily be erected by the homeowner’s contractor.

The ranch houses gave privacy yet openness to living areas and featured flexible designs that could be tailored to fit on a variety of terrains and oriented for sun or shade. They were spacious, simple in design, yet cost effective, and gave the feeling of living in the country while living in the city. The minimized interior partitioning meant large open rooms, fewer doors, and less space for hallways and entries. The designs could be modified to fit special needs and smaller rooms did not seem cramped when they opened to a private terrace or patio that literally extended the interior floor area into the outdoors (Sunset Western Ranch Houses, p. 25; Sunset Magazine, November 1952, p. 45). In addition, they were perfect for mass distribution through franchise distributors.

Low cost homes were a predominant emphasis for designers, architects, and builders during the 1950s. As San Diego County’s population increased with millions of returning veterans and defense industry workers settling in the City of San Diego and adjacent communities such as La Mesa, there was a resulting demand for new, affordable houses. The Custom Ranch home became widely popular with designs created with specific clients in mind. In San Diego, Cliff May was in the company of other noted designers Richard Wheeler, C.J. Paderewski, and Weir Brothers Construction (Modernism Context Statement, p. 73).

Nationwide, his peers were the likes of H. Roy Kelley and William W. Wurster (National Register Context Statement). In his book, Ranch House, author Alan Hess summed up the popularity of the style with "The Ranch House matches the philosophical potency of the bungalow, it outstrips the brownstone in numbers, and it challenges the log cabin in mythic power" (Introduction, p. 11). Hess described the Ranch House as representing:

A whole range of powerful images and myths: new possibilities, rugged individualism, self determination, ease and convenience, informality, wide open spaces. The Ranch was after all a product of the West, born of the explosive mid-century growth of that region. (Hess, Introduction, p. 14)

More importantly, this design represents the period in May’s career when he first partnered with Choate in what would quickly become a widely successful business relationship. By 1953, newspaper articles were referring to them as "well known Southland architects." However, the plans for this house are stamped "Copyright 1952," and also "Copyright 1953," before they created their Lakewood Rancho Estates tract in California. That tract, which received national attention, did not open until June of 1953, and it would feature their famous "Californian" design (Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA June 7, 1953, "New Tract to be Previewed in Lakewood"). This design, however, preceded the "Californian."

Between 1946 and 1958, Sunset Magazine periodically featured portfolios of May’s designs. Popular magazines and news-papers were quick to promote the ranch style, and Choate and May also did their own share of advertising. This house represents this period between 1952 – 1953 when May and Choate had offices in Los Angeles at 13151 Sunset Boulevard and they were "Designers and Consultants for Low Cost Housing." Styles’ blueprints for the May-Choate "Ranch" design had "Patent Pending" stamped on them.

The August 1952 edition of Sunset, the Magazine of Western Living, featured an illustrated article about the opening of the new Cliff May-designed Menlo Park offices for Sunset Magazine, located 30 miles south of San Francisco. The article boasted on page 47 "As we take you on a photographic tour, we’re going to point out ideas which we feel could be adapted to many small Western Homes. . . A rambling ranch house structure fits our workaday needs." A few months later, their November 1952 edition of Sunset featured the cover picture:

"On this month’s cover we show a newsworthy subdivision house. It offers a lesson for Western home planners who want more living space at minimum cost. Design by Cliff May and Chris Choate." This project represents a collaboration – Cliff May and Chris Choate, designers of the house, and LandscapeArchitect Douglas Baylis, designer of the outdoor living area, working with Stern & Price, builders. The house, in two and three-bedroom sizes, is now being built in quantity in Cupertino, California. (page 45)

An article in the April 3, 1954 Elyria, Ohio Chronicle-Telegram explained the business aspects of "prefabbing" in this period:

An economic evolution in the homebuilding industry is producing a new business – a cross between the large-scale housebuilder and the manufacturer of prefabricated homes, House & Home declares in a recent issue. This new hybrid type of builder originally was a metropolitan area homebuilder who started precutting his materials, ore preassembling parts or panels. He then began to sell them to other homebuilders as a package for them to erect or retail as their own houses. . . . Demand from other homebuilders for their products has been so great these large builders now retain only a vestige of their original housebuilding characteristics … Cliff May of Los Angeles, who went through a phenomenal transformation into a manufacturer last year, has found his own homebuilding operation almost at a standstill.

One author, John Mack Faragher, wrote in 2001 in The Western Historical Quarterly, "Bungalow and Ranch House: The Architectural Backwash of California," that both the California bungalow of the early twentieth century and the post WW II ranch house were good examples of vernacular house design that offer "insights into the lives of ordinary people and documents important trends in social and cultural history." His point is that both styles originated in Southern California, and in that setting they played important roles in "building the suburban culture of that region." Furthermore, it was his thesis that the popularity of both styles then spread eastward, taking their legacy of the American West to become nationally significant. Faragher argued that the eastward spread of popularity of both designs, or "backwash," suggests "changing currents of regional influence in twentieth-century America."

The National Register Bulletin for Historic Residential Suburbs, explains in their historical context statement for "The Design of the Suburban Home; The Suburban Ranch House," that "the house type reflected the nation’s growing fascination with the informal lifestyle of the West Coast and the changing functional needs of families." Ken Burnstein, director of preservation issues at the Los Angeles Conservancy, reported that few neighborhoods of ranch houses survive intact because the Ranch was designed to evolve with added rooms:

"But there is a growing recognition that we are losing the very best examples. It’ll be like the neighborhood after neighborhood of Victorian homes that were torn down because they were viewed as overly ornamental and too dark. They came back into favor in the 1970s, but by then, cities all over the country had lost entire Victorian neighborhoods (Rozhon 1999: 5)."

In 1986, the New York Times interviewed May and their ensuing article was both a description and a title: "The Man Behind the Ranch House." They noted that May’s designs had found customers seeking his designs as far away as Switzerland, Australia, and Ireland. In that interview, May stated, "The Ranch House was everything a California house should be – it had cross-ventilation, the floor was level with the ground, and with its courtyard and the exterior corridor, it was about sunshine and informal outdoor living."

The enduring popularity of his designs to modern homebuyers has not escaped realtors who have had little difficulty finding buyers for these comfortable designs. May and Choate’s houses were designed with "knockout panels" for easy room expansion. In March, 2005, Linda Legner wrote of some of the most relevant attributes for the ranch home’s popularity revival in her Architectural Coach Column of Realtor Magazine Online. Her remarks show some of the reasons why this style will most likely endure:

"What’s Sparking the Ranch Revival? Driving the renewed popularity of the Ranch style is accessibility… Practically every component of a Ranch house can be reached without a ladder, making it simpler for residents to manage and repair themselves. Older ranches make excellent starter homes. These homes are affordable, safer for the little ones, and structurally suited to cost-effective improvements as budgets and families grow."


In October 2007, the City of San Diego formalized its recognition of modernist architecture within the progression of architectural development within its boundaries with their adoption the San Diego Modernism Historic Context Statement. In their visionary introduction to that Statement, Director of City Planning and Community Investment William Anderson, FAICP, stated:

"The City of San Diego is known for its wealth of historical and cultural resources, and the City is committed to preserving, interpreting and celebrating this heritage. From the Native American sites and California’s earliest Spanish settlements, to recent landmarks such as the renowned 1965 Salk Institute for Biological Studies, San Diego has a rich and diverse continuum of cultural artifacts to appreciate."

The buildings, sites and structures expressing the Modernist era are a crucial contributor to this continuum. This Historic Context Statement on San Diego Modernism describes the background of social and economic history, development patterns, and artistic and cultural trends that informed the years 1935-1970 when Modernism flowered in San Diego. This context statement also becomes an essential tool for the City Historical Resources Board (HRB), and the City staff to more accurately assess the value and relative significance of resources in this time period. It provides a foundation for future HRB efforts and consideration of historic designation of significant Modernist resources.

Furthermore, this Statement reinforces the City’s commitment to all aspects and periods of its history, particularly the most recent period leading into our current 45 year window of review. San Diego is blessed with a wealth of Modernist resources created by bold, accomplished and nationally recognized practitioners. As interest and respect for Modernism grows, San Diego offers its distinctive contributors to this legacy.

Notable Cliff May Homes in San Diego County (See p. 98 Modernism Context Statement; Register of Historical Landmarks, City of San Diego; Register of Landmarks, County of San Diego):

· The Lindstrom House, 4669 East Talmadge Drive, San Diego (1933) *National Register property
· Colonel Arthur J. and Frances O’Leary House, 4725 Norma Drive, Kensington (1932)
· Alexander and Nancy Highland House, 2400 Presidio Drive, Mission Hills (1934)
· Violetta Horton Spec House #1, 7445 Hillside Drive, La Jolla (1935)
· Violetta Horton Spec House #2, 7447 Hillside Drive, La Jolla (1935)
· Violetta Horton / Cliff May Spec House #3, 7477 Hillside Drive, La Jolla (1935); *San Diego Landmark No. 679
· Violetta Horton / Cliff May Spec House #4, 7575 Hillside Drive, La Jolla (1935)
· James and Agatha Youngblood / Cliff May House, 17538 El Vuelo, Rancho Santa Fe (1974); *San Diego County Landmark No. 06-2004

Master Architect Cliff May and Architect Chris Choate:

It is not that common for an architect or designer’s name to become synonymous with a particular design, but that is certainly the case with the recognition and acclaim given to Clifford "Cliff" May, on a national and international level. With little to no hesitation, sources describing his work credit him as the "father of the ranch house." In his own time, newspaper articles often referred to him as the "dean" of the ranch house. In January 1957, when the Daily Review of Hayward, California showcased May’s own newly built ranch house in Los Angeles, they elevated him to the "King of the Ranch House" (January 1, 1957 "Ranch House Design embraces New Ideas: Unique Home Wins Honor"). Certainly, his name has become nearly synonymous with this popular post World War II architectural style.

Many people, however, may not realized that May was born in San Diego, and the progression of his architectural career is strongly tied to San Diego’s development, throughout the county and adjacent municipalities, with a career that spanned decades. May is probably the best known promoter of the Ranch House style, and his marriage of this style of architecture with Mexican haciendas formed both a building and a landscape setting synonymous with California leisure and comfortable living. Less is known about his partner Chris Choate, and most sources briefly credit their partnership in the business of pre-fabricated homes, with most biographical detail favoring May.

Author David Bricker in his book Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House states:

"In perhaps Cliff’s most experimental design, the Skylight House of 1949, where the May’s lived for two years before moving into 2200 Old Ranch Road, cabinets became movable partitions that could shape space, not just occupy it. Cliff’s design partner at this time was architect Chris Choate, whom Cliff credits with sparking the concept for the house while they were developing the idea of a "low cost ranch house" (p. 95)."

No verified birth or death information could be found for Choate to better understand his early years and training. One source states he was born in 1905 and died in 1981 (Mason). May originally hired "the younger" Choate to do architectural renderings for him and that "In 1952 May and Choate designed, copyrighted, and marked the ‘Low-Cost House Building System,’ a kit of parts (pre-cut lumber, wall panels, prefabricated utility and bathroom units) with surprising success. Designs were sold to developers for $224 to $300 a house, and factories found to manufacture the parts. The modular houses ranged from 750-1,200 square feet" (www.eichlernetwork.com/socal_hacienda.html).

Another source states that May and Choate designed sets for MGM Studios and that after two years together with May, Choate joined the faculty at UCLA (www.9601Charleville.com). An October 29, 1955 article in the Centralia, Washington Daily Chronicle states that Choate was a set designer for the movie "Gone With The Wind." Choate was an architect, illustrator, teacher, and author. In 1961, he published Architectural Presentation in Opaque Watercolor Theory and Technique with Reinhold Book Corporation.

In an article dated February 28, 1954 in the Long Beach, California Independent-Press-Telegram entitled "Cliff May to Build Next in Orange County," the authors state that May’s "Magazine Cover Home" had received many awards for design and economy and had been featured on numerous covers of leading home magazines. They noted that May and Choate had designed a house on the Street of Homes in the 1950 Chicago World’s Fair and that in 1953 they had won the National Association of Home Builders design award for homes over 1000 and under 1000 square feet. At that time May was also the staff consultant for House Beautiful and he had designed the famous "Pace Setter Home" for them.

By 1955, the Idaho State Journal was one of a number of newspapers whose wire services picked up a United Press article of another Cliff May Homes in Los Angeles design in Portland, Oregon. This design was a "Japanese-style" pre-fabricated house which would become available to shoppers the following fall for $10,000 per house (Idaho State Journal, June 22, 1955, "Americans to Purchase Japanese-type Houses," by Elizabeth Toomey, Portland, Oregon). Wood Working Digest in 1955 announced that May and his partner Choate had built plywood into a "packaged panel system which cuts at least $1000 off the market price of handsome ranch style homes" (Google Books).

An article entitled "Plywood Association Hears Plans for Sales Promotion During 20th Annual Meeting; Officers Elected," states that Choate was working with W.E. Difford, the managing director of the Douglas Fir Plywood Association (DFPA) since 1938, in a ‘four-phase program which he said would keep plywood demand "going forward each year.’" Phase 1 was the development of a new system of building new homes "designed by Chris Choate, Los Angeles architect, intended to help 40% of the nation’s lumber dealers "who are partially or wholly in the home building field." The system was designed to reduce the number of framing members in each home, develop new designs in school classroom and church designs, as well as residential room additions (Humbolt Standard, Eureka, CA, June 20, 1956).

In 1957, Choate received recognition for his design of an economical, handsome, durable fir plywood closet door design that had the advantage of not requiring any hardware ("lightweight Closet Doors Called Economical, Durable," www.Ancestry.com newspaper archive, The Hammond Times, November 3, 1957). By 1958, Choate had partnered with architect R.G. Jones to design and build "Rossmoor," a $200 million dollar 1200-acre community near Long Beach State College. Their "Golden Estate Home" received numerous awards ("Rossmoor Wins National Award for Home Design," Long Beach, California Independent-Press-Telegram).

The City of San Diego and County of San Diego have recognized Cliff May as a Master Architect. Examples of his design work are highly prized among Modernist architects and fans of the style. In Los Angeles, entire neighborhoods of Cliff May designed buildings are preserved in historic districts, although many more have been insensitively remodelled. But one variant that is poorly represented in historical lists in San Diego County is the Cliff May and Chris Chaote prefabricated house. Doug Kramer extols these May & Choate houses for their unique panel construction because they were easy
and economical low cost housing and the knockout panels could be easily modified to expand the size of the house (Kramer 2005).

May developed his trademark style in the early 1930s by designing comfortable "Haciendas" and "Rancherias" similar to early 19th century Mexican houses in early California. The San Diego Union of December 1, 1935 featured a "Bit of Old California in Modern Residence: There’s a bit of old California in this Cliff May hacienda just constructed for Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Hunt Wood at 7575 Hillside dr., La Jolla."

The article included an illustration of a traditional "U" shaped hacienda style residence. A large San Diego Union advertisement on January 12, 1936, promoted "Cliff May, Builder of Haciendas also Early California Rancherias." Guests were invited to "Spend an Hour TODAY Romancing Thru this Picturesque "Rancheria" Home Built in the Typical Cliff May Manner," at 4291 Van Dyke Place in Talmadge Park. That article also mentioned houses he built in the Bonita, Coronado, and La Jolla Hermosa communities of San Diego.

On January 19, 1936, another advertisement invited, "Let this Cliff May "Rancheria" on Scenic Grossmont Inspire You to Better Living," Directions to that house stated "Drive through La Mesa on Highway "80," past the old Grossmont Studio location, take main road to Grossmont, look for the direction sign." His advertisement noted he had similar houses in the Hope Ranch area of Santa Barbara and La Habra in Los Angeles.

Hess states that between1931 and 1937, May built fifty speculative Ranch style homes as well as custom homes in the San Diego area (p. 33). Interestingly, only one, the Styles House, is included on Keith York’s San Diego website of modernist-style buildings, www.ModernSanDiego.com .

These designs later assumed elements of the Bauhaus Modernist styles to create the Western Ranch style that May and Choate called "Ranchos" in the early 1950s. Sunset Magazine promoted the architecture of May in the pre-war 1940s and post-war 1950s. This style assumed great popularity after World War II with the "festivity of vacation time" (Sunset Magazine 1950: 42). The San Diego Union highlighted many of the desirable homes of this period in a feature article on August 7, 1955, entitled, "Fine Homes on the Hill: Mount Helix – Choice Area Living At Its Casual Best, Close To City," by Clyde Smith, Homes and Building Writer.

Cliff May’s parents were Charles Clifford May and Beatrice A. Magee. Charles was a member of San Diego’s pioneer families, and he was also born in San Diego. His father, Charles E. May, arrived in San Diego from San Francisco on the steamship Orizaba with his friend William Jeff Gatewood, who later founded the San Diego Union. In 1905, he married Beatrice Magee, who also was born in San Diego. She was the daughter of Henry H. C. Magee and Maria Victoria De Pedrorena. This family connection forms May’s link with the famous De Pedrorena and Estudillo families.

Old Town San Diego’s "Ramona’s Marriage Place" was once the Estudillo family home. The couple had three children, one of whom died in infancy. Clifford Magee May was born on August 29, 1908 and his brother Henry C. was born on December 9, 1914 (Ancestry.com). On October 19, 1932, May married Jean Lichty, daughter of a prominent real estate family. Her father, Roy Cook Lichty, was the manager of the Talmadge Park tracts near Kensington in San Diego, and this family connection no doubt helped May with his business connections. Her obituary states:

Jean met Cliff May when she was eighteen. He was playing the saxophone and running a dance band (which performed at a local radio station, KFSD). He played Friday and Saturday nights at the
Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego but he wasn’t making enough to get married. Cliff began making furniture to put into unsold homes and eventually began building homes himself. Cliff and Jean sold their first house in 1932 and they were finally able to get married. They married October 1932 at the Mission de Alcala in San Diego (Messenger Online: The Santa Monica Mountains News and Arts Publication).

Author Robert Winter wrote in his book "Toward a Simpler Way of Life," that before they married, Jean and Cliff attended a display in San Diego of the Los Angeles Barker Brothers furniture store’s "Monterey" furniture. May believed he could make similar furniture himself, and he was confident his would turn out even better.

From that inspiration, he began to make furniture of his own preference, and Roy Lichty helped with the storage problem by allowing May to place some of his furniture in one of his model homes. This led to more placements in display homes, and soon May turned to creating the furniture, the house, and the landscaping as an entire residential package (Winter, p. 285). Architectural Digest featured May’s second home, and more of his residences were featured in other popular magazines such as Sunset, American Home, and California Arts & Architecture (Gallegos, 2005). Notable examples are in Presidio Hills, La Jolla, and Talmadge Park.

In 1939, the Mays moved to Los Angeles and he began work on the Riviera Ranch tract in west Los Angeles. He also built in other areas such as Rolling Hills and Valley Crest. He built a 3,800 square foot home in west Los Angeles for his family, and they lived there for fourteen years.

In 1946, Sunset Magazine published Sunset Western Ranch Houses in collaboration with May. It featured designs from 33 architects and designers, including May, and they emphasized the Spanish origins of the designs. In the war years of WW II, May designed temporary barracks in Glendale, California for aviation workers. After World War II, May resurfaced as a custom house designer and builder, which lasted until he transformed his business to a manufacturer in 1953.

By the 1950s, ranch style designs could be found throughout California, the Pacific Northwest, and Southwest. In 1953, May and Choate established their Ranch House Corporation and began to market complete plans, materials, and pre-fabricated packages for their designs. One of these was the "Californian," which became immensely popular across America. Another style was the "Magic Money Homes, the ultimate in indoor, outdoor living!" (Advertisement in The Daily Review, October 9, 1953).

Yet another was the "Magazine Cover Home," in Anaheim (Independent Press-Telegram, May 15, 1955). They also began to work with local builders and contractors and assigned "area representatives," as exclusive agents for their interests in certain geographical territories. The Styles House, represents the early part of Choate and May’s business partnership when they first reconfigured their business as manufacturers, and the Styles’ house may be one of the first known examples of a May & Choate kit house in La Mesa. The architectural plans, a piece of wood with their names stenciled and other documents provide the highest level of proof.

Author Laura Gallegos states May was president of the Los Angeles division of the Building Contractors’ Association from 1940 to 1950, and that he also served House Beautiful magazine as a staff consultant from 1946 to 1952. She states he received awards from the National Association of Home Builders in 1947, 1952, and 1953. Other awards included an Award of Merit for Residential Design and construction from House and Home in 1956; the "Hallmark House" award from House and Garden in 1958, and the exclusive recognition given to him by Sunset Magazine.

Although he was not a traditionally trained architect, his accomplishments were recognized when he given the designation of licensed architect when the State of California eliminated the agency that had oversight of building designers. In November, 1964, as the 1963 recipient, he had the honor of passing on the large perpetual trophy for Builder of the Year of the Building Contractors Association of California to his successor in front of approximately 600 fellow members at the association’s annual convention at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas ("Present Builder of the Year Award at Meeting," The Van Nuys News, November 1, 1964).

Cliff May’s California ranch house designs have remained continually popular to the present day. In his March 2008 book, Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House, author Daniel P. Gregory equates May’s ranch houses with California living:

"Cliff May’s modern homes epitomize the indoor-outdoor lifestyle characteristic of the American Dream, fusing the open plan/open living philosophy with the traditional ranch house. Starting in the 1930s, the modern ranch house took the country by storm, migrating from California to Arizona, and Cliff May was the chief proponent of this style. His long, low designs managed to be both modern and traditional, celebrating a casually elegant, indoor-outdoor lifestyle, and drawing inspiration from California’s Spanish Mexican ranchos while embracing the latest technological gadgetry. With their low profile, large carports and garages, patios, and expansive horizontality, May’s modern ranch houses became synonymous with the nascent California lifestyle and were enthusiastically promoted by the popular Sunset magazine throughout the U.S. He personally designed and built more than 1,000 homes and commercial buildings, and over 18,000 designs are attributed to his office, including the Robert Mondavi Winery and the offices of Sunset. Complete with new color photography, Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House celebrates the best of May’s work, from his start building homes during the Depression to how he evolved a brand of regional modernity that fulfilled the public’s desire for informal living in the 1950s and 1960s. (www.rizzoliusa.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780847830473)"

May died in Los Angeles, California on October 18, 1989, leaving behind an architectural legacy based on a career that spanned nearly a half a century. Within the continuum of his own career, the Styles House is unique in La Mesa as an early May-Choate Ranch House designed and built by plans created for the lot in 1952 and 1953.


The 55-year old Hugh B. and Zula B. Styles House is a notable example of the architectural design work of Master Architect Cliff May and his partner Architect Chris Choate, and one of the earliest known examples of a May-Choate pre-fabricated kit house in the Cities of La Mesa and San Diego. The direct association of May with the prefabricated cutting, manufactur-ing, assembling, and franchising of the kit house parts elevates the house’s significance.

Hugh B. Styles, an architect in his own right, expanded the house in 1963 by splicing the ceiling roof beams and knocking out panels and duplicating glass and wall systems and a new entrance, in keeping with May and Choate’s intention that these houses be easily expanded. The house exhibits excellent integrity, with only the garage door sealing the old carport as a design and materials change.


"The Ranch House Revisited," The San Diego Weekly Reader. (Peter Jensen 2004: Volume 34, Number 9, pages 76-80).

"Fine Homes on the Hill: Mt. Helix – Choice Area: Country Living At Its Casual Best, Close To City, by Clyde V. Smith, San Diego Union’s Homes and Building Writer, San Diego Union, August 7, 1995.


May, Cliff
1958 Ranch Houses. Menlo Park: Lane Publishing Company.

1974 Sunset: Western Ranch Houses. Originally published, Lane Publishing Company, 1946 and renewed in 1974, reprinted with permission of Sunset Publishing Corp. by Hennessey + Ingalls, 1999, Santa Monica, California.

1997 Western Ranches by Cliff May, Editorial Staff of Sunset Magazine and Books, Santa Monica: Hennessey & Ingalls. McAlester, Virginia and Lee McAlester

2002 A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Hess, Alan
2004 Ranch House. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Winter, Robert, ed
1997 Toward a Simpler Way of Life: The Arts & Crafts Architects of California. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Sunset Magazine 1950: 42; August 1952 Clliff May-designed Menlo Park Sunset officed, pp. 47-49; November 1952, cover, inside page, and article "More Living Space," pp. 44-46



Tracie Rozhon and www.pbs.org/fms/interviews/jackson.htm and Kenneth T. Jackson, Interview in the First Measured Century, Host/Essayist Ben Wattenberg, Public Broadcasting System

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, By Scott Jarson, Desert Living Magazine, 2002, reprinted by Modern Phoenix, Neighborhood Network. www.modernphoenix.net/backatranch.htm.

Old House Journal Online, The Magazine, "After the War: How the Rush To House Returning War Veterans Recast Suburbia," by James C. Massey and Shirley Maxwell. www.oldhousejournal.com/magazine/2004/april/after_war.shtml

"The Man Behind the Ranch House," in New York Times, July 3, 1986, by Joseph Giovannini.

"San Diego Modernism Historic Context Statement," The City of San Diego, October 17, 2007

www.modernsandiego.com , Cliff May, featuring the Styles House

"Cliff May and the California Ranch House," by Laura Gallegos, Paper submitted for Dr. L. Jones, History 184, 28 April 2005, www.ranchostyle.com/images/cliff%20May_5-28-2005.pdf

www.sdhaciendas.com/Clifford%20May.html , featuring biography of Clifford May

www.eichlernetwork.com/socal_hacienda.html "Cliff May Homes, Pre-fabs a Mixed Blessing for May"

www.eichlernetwork.com/socal_hacienda.html "Cliff May’s Hacienda Modern’ Hardly a mainstream modernist, Cliff May made rustic-looking homes as modern as they come, in Southern California Modern.


www.topangamessenger.com/Articles.asp?SectionID=6&ArticleID=2994. Obituary for Jean Lichty May, by Hillary Jessup (her daughter).

Google Books, History of Housing in the U.S., 1930-1980 by Joseph B. Mason.

Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA June 7, 1953, "New Tract to be Previewed in Lakewood" (Ancestry.com Newspaper Archive)

Idaho State Journal, June 22, 1955, "Americans to Purchase Japanese-type Houses," by Elizabeth Toomey, Portland, Oregon (Ancestry.com Newspaper Archive)

National Register Bulletin, Historic Residential Suburbs: The Design of the Suburban Home, The Suburban Ranch House."

The Western Historical Quarterly, "Bungalow and Ranch House: The Architectural Backwash of California," by John Mack Faragher. Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer 2001.

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