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Tustin History

fleurdelis_50x50.png“California’s Gold” with Huell Howser

Huell Howser visited Tustin two times for his TV series “California Gold”.  His first filming was of our blimp hangars.  In 2008, he toured Old Town Tustin, visiting our museum, the blacksmith shop and almost getting a haircut.  To view Huell’s dash through our historic district, go to Chapman University’s “California Gold” video archive.


Huell Howser about to enjoy BBQ at a local restaurant


Huell set for filming on Main Street


Huell at the Tustin Blacksmith Shop with Vic Andersen


Getting a haircut at the Wooden Indian with Gordon Bean


Cliff May Homes

Tucked ever so neatly into two neighborhoods in Tustin, lies the legacy of architect Cliff May. Celebrated as a building designer and the Father of the Ranch Home, May designed classic midcentury gems.

Born in San Diego, Cliff May was greatly influenced by the Spanish Rancho. The open interior spaces and high ceilings of this uniquely California architectural style allowed for cool breezes and plenty of space for family gatherings. The Rancho affected Cliff May’s style so much that he is credited with inventing the great room concept.

May began designing furniture in the 1920’s, and then quickly moved to home design by 1930. Influenced by the modernist movement in the early 1950’s, May designed modern homes throughout Southern California and beyond. Floor plans featured the concept of indoor/outdoor living where clerestory windows, tongue and groove wood ceilings and outrigger beams were just a few of the architectural elements within the hip, modern homes. 60 years later the designs are as fresh and on trend today as the day they were built.

Our city is fortunate to have two Cliff May designed neighborhoods. The largest enclave is located near the corner of Red Hill Blvd. and Irvine Blvd., and is considered to be one of the first housing tracts in Tustin. “At the time, the corner of Irvine and Red Hill was a 4 way stop”, says Cliff May homeowner Stephen Meade. “The neighborhood also has a rare super-sized 3 bedroom model which has an atrium as well.” The other neighborhood, locate near El Camino and Browning, has just 19 homes. It is believed that the two neighborhoods were built by different building contractors.

Originally priced between $13,500-$16,500, the homes were small by today’s standards but big on style and innovation. They came prefabricated from May’s company and were built on site by a local building contractor. In fact, May collaborated with such notable builders as Ross Cortese, the creator of the Rossmoor communities.

13061-Wreath-0199 13061-Wreath-0209 13061-Wreath-0245The Cliff May neighborhoods have seen revitalization over the last few years and are highly sought after by mid-century enthusiasts. The timeless architecture of these modernist ranch homes, combined with the timely preservation by proud homeowners, ensures that these homes will continue to be part of the Cliff May legacy. Architectural aficionados and midcentury modern enthusiasts alike wait patiently for Cliff May designed homes to come on the market. And, when they do, they go fast.

“I was not actively looking for a house when I found this one.”, says Stephen Meade, a Cliff May Homeowner since 2005, and incoming President of the Pacific West Association of Realtors. “We based our decision on the esthetics of the home. But now, the interior is what we really love about the house.”

The prefabricated homes made by May’s company allowed him to incorporate some of the innovative features normally found in large, expensive homes, to more modest and affordable ranch homes. One of the homes’ unique features is the interchangeable panels that can be moved by the homeowner. This allowed for a custom look when the homes were being built. If the homeowner grew tired of the floor plan or needed to move a door, the panels allowed for this customization.

May’s designs incorporated such attention to detail as the position of walls and windows to allow for sun and shade, today considered to be “green designs”. Dry wall was used for the interior walls when other builders were still using board and plaster. This was unheard of at the time. The redwood board and batten exteriors were designed to last. And they have.

Over his life time, Cliff May never stopped creating inventive residential design. Over the decades those innovations have turned into art. And Tustin homeowners are happy to live in it.

(This article was researched and written by new North Tustin resident Lisa Harding. Lisa has been actively involved with the Palm Springs Historical Society and is an admirer of midcentury architecture.)