Architect Cliff May (1909-1989) practiced in California and is best known for developing the suburban Post-war “dream home” known as the California Ranch House. He is credited with creating the California Ranch-style house in 1932. Interestingly enough, famous as he was, May never did formally register as a licensed architect.
Cliff May, over the course of his career, designed numerous commercial buildings, over eighteen-hundred custom residences, and from model house prototypes, more than eighteen thousand tract houses. May was not a purist in architectural style and design as he synthesized Spanish Colonial Revival architecture with abstracted California adobe ranchos and Mid-Century Modern architecture.
Cliff May died in 1989, at the age of eighty, at his estate “Mandalay” in Sullivan Canyon, in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains in Brentwood, California.
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Built in Sullivan Canyon in West Los Angeles in 1956, Cliff May designed Mandalay — his last personal home — as a one-story dwelling with wings projecting at right angles from a central spine. He covered the low-pitched roofs with pebbles from a California creek bed and, in two sections, cut skylights extending from one end of the roof to the other. He also extensively utilized glass walls, sliding glass windows, and indoor/outdoor planters — all design elements used in his “Experimental House.”
More importantly, May added a new concept to the idea of bringing the outdoors in. Not only did he use the same paving materials inside and out but also the same ceiling and wall materials. Wooden roof beams and rafters as well as board-and-batten and white-plastered walls extended both inside and out. Moreover, May included radiant heating in the patio terraces, and outdoor lighting matched the interior fixtures — a classic May touch used in other homes to make the outdoors feel as part of the indoors at night.
In arranging the rooms of the house, May combined open planning with private spaces for the family. A large house of 6,300 square feet, the entry, kitchen, and living, dining, and family rooms were one open area with no intervening doors. However, in creating spaces for the bedrooms, dressing rooms, and bathrooms, May built interior walls and doors to provide privacy.
What is most interesting about Mandalay was May’s ideas about the ranch style. Although May designed the house as an asymmetrical, one-story dwelling, the plan was complex, forming courtyards on both sides of the house rather than having the main courtyard in the center. The roof was low-pitched with wide overhanging eaves but covered with rock rather than wood shingles. May included board-and-batten as well as white-plastered walls but felt that he needed to give the house “a sophisticated touch of the Spanish past.” To achieve such an earthy, rustic look, he added Spanish, Mexican, and French architectural crafts and decorative elements: a sixteenth-century Gothic grille, historic doors, lighting fixtures, and wrought-iron door handles, and antiquated books.
Mandalay was demolished and replaced with a private housing complex (like too many other great architectural gems); only the gate house pictured at the top of this post survives.
Mandalay Estate Today
The original Mandalay home of Cliff May was demolished after his death and replaced with a contemporary estate home. Mandalay’s address is 2200 North Old Ranch Road, Los Angeles, CA and is still marked by the original rustically modern gatehouse. Enter the address into google maps and take a virtual drive up Old Ranch Road, quite beautifully lush with horse ranches and homes. At the end of the road stands the gatehouse with it’s original address marker that reads: “MANDALAY 2200.”
Beyond the gatehouse, the rustic and wildly lush country road evolves into a perfectly manicured landscape with perfectly paved and curbed private road leading to a 16,623 square foot single family home with 7 bedrooms and 10.0 bathrooms. It is your typical expansive, sprawling estate compound with every generic luxury your whim could muster, minus of course design pedigree and texture. Forever gone is Mandalay’s grace and composure.