The Suburban Ranch Home

Cliff May made it normative and this early model of his work shows why it has become the standard in California, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Some wonderful photos of it at the jump.

An excerpt.

Historic home

This graceful La Habra Heights home might look familiar to any fan of California-style Spanish architecture—its arches, high, dark beamed ceilings, and courtyard setting are the careful embellishments of Cliff May, one of the most well-respected architects of the 20th Century.

May’s career may indeed have been launched with this home. It was commissioned in the mid-1930s by John Arnholt Smith, an oil promoter and banker. According to Top 10 Real Estate, this hacienda rests on “the original Rancho Los Nietos land grant in the Alta ‘territory,’ 89 years after it came under the American flag.”

John Arnholt Smith’s older brother was C. Arnholt Smith, the multimillionaire California banker who brought major league baseball to San Diego. In 1933, John Arnholt Smith loaned his brother money to buy a controlling interest in the United States National Bank. While holding this position, C. Arnholt was convicted of embezzlement and commingling funds. But before such an unfortunate turn of events, he helped his brother John by discovering “ the budding architect” Cliff May.

Patronage for a genius

While touring one of May’s homes, C. Arnholt Smith fell in love with the architect’s style. He convinced his brother to come to San Diego to see the home; John and his wife also fell in love, and commissioned May to design and build a home for them on 40 acres in La Habra Heights. This would be May’s first foray into Los Angeles.

This house changed the course of May’s career. The Smiths, thrilled with their new home, asked May to move to Los Angeles with Smith as his patron/ financial support. May did so, and was soon no longer in need of Smith’s support – his impact on the landscape of Los Angeles homes (and on architecture in general) was tremendous: along with his signature Spanish-influence, he is credited as the innovator of the California Ranch-style home.

Retrieved September 29, 2014 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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