Cliff May Rancho saved from wreckage, sells for $980,000

To give you an idea of how hot a property a Cliff May Rancho-style home in the east part of Long Beach is, I visited one at 3102 Roxanne Ave. a few blocks east of Studebaker Road a few months ago. It was a wreck, a nightmare.

An immediate tear down and a thorough salting of the earth where the home had stood would’ve been beautification improvement to the property.

But it was a Cliff May and, as they say in the business, its bones were good. Every other part of the house, not so much.

The place was last lived in by an extreme hoarder and a cat lady who devoted one bedroom to her numerous feline squatters by covering the entire floor with kitty litter that, well, wasn’t changed frequently. Or ever. Trash that didn’t bear further investigation was everywhere in the house, piled up to the ceilings. By the time I saw it, the trash and kitty litter had been hauled off, but there were still vestiges: I noticed a dark arc that began at a corner and rainbowed to a peak at the ceiling and then back down again. What made that dark path?

“That was where rats ran up and down a big pile of trash that was stacked up against the wall,” explained Realtor Ben Fisher, who has been involved, along with a team of mid-modern experts, in rehabbing the house.

The grounds, too, were overgrown. An amateur appraiser, say, me, would figure the place would be worth—and I’m being generous and aware of property value here—maybe $300,000.

The yard at the Roxanne Avenue house before cleanup. Photo by Justin Smith.

Maybe you missed the part about how it’s a Cliff May. A group of investors didn’t flinch when they bought it for $700,000.

That was about four months ago. Now, a team of craftsmen and other workers, including some locals in the neighborhood like Jeff Harmon of Bug Bee Wood Co. who did the carpentry and finish work, and Justin Smith, who did the bulk of the cleanup, have brought the place back to showroom shape, and Fisher’s clients have accepted an offer of $980,000.

So, the Cliff May craze continues unabated as we rocket into a new decade. Realtor Nate Cole says that “quite a few” Ranchos have topped the $1 million mark in recent months, which is an explosion when you consider that it wasn’t long ago that Cliff Mays were going for essentially the same price as the tract homes in the Plaza neighborhoods to their west, which rarely reach $800,000 and are more commonly in the mid-$600,000 range.

The homes’ admirers are lavish in their love of the Ranchos that were built in Long Beach in 1953 and 1954 by developer Ross Cortese using May’s designs, which included the plans and the materials and techniques to be used, always going for a certain simplicity and affordability. Over the years, the homes have acquired a decidedly retro look, which is a big part of their appeal.

But the models have their detractors, too, chiefly because they lack insulation and the abundance of glass makes them difficult to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. It takes a fondness for a minimalist lifestyle because any sort of clutter or mess is amplified by the fact that every room is visible from the outside. Additionally, if you enjoy the coziness and privacy of a more traditional home, you’ll feel fairly vulnerable in a Cliff May.

The master bedroom in the Roxanne Rancho opens up onto the patio. Listing photo.

Some of those drawbacks are fixable, but adding thicker walls for insulation and sound-proofing, or (shudder) stucco or otherwise detracting from the architecture both incurs the wrath of neighbors as well as devaluing the house.

A couple of the homes that sold for more than $1 million, said Cole, feature second-story additions, generally considered to be an architectural felony by mid-modern aficionados, a group that includes Cole, though he begrudgingly admits that there are a couple of two-story Cliff Mays “that aren’t super offensive.”

Fisher has yet to sell a $1 million Cliff May, though he has snapped up some handsome listings in town, including my future beach house on the sand on the Peninsula at 5454 Ocean Blvd., which can be yours, or mine, for $4.299 million.

The refurbished home on Roxanne sold in just 10 days, a stretch that included a sluggish post-Thanksgiving period.

The home now is bright and airy, as is typical Cliff May homes. It’s one of the larger models, with four bedrooms (rather than three that most models have) and two baths spread over 1,592 square feet. The master bedroom, in particular, is wide open to the outside, though, typically, the Ranchos get their privacy from being behind wooden fencing that runs along the street side of the property.

Even though the Roxanne property is in escrow, neighbors might still wish to arrange for a visit because everything in the home, which is staged with mid-modern furnishings, fixtures and artwork by John Douglas Interiors, is for sale.

In other local real estate news, one of the Villa Riviera’s two penthouses, Unit 1508, is in escrow following a winning bid in auction Thursday of $1 million. The listing is held by Adriano Lamboglia of Harcourts Auctions/Hunter Mason Realty. A representative from the firm said backup offers are still being accepted.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.