One of the most influential American residential designers of the 20th century was neither a trained architect nor an experienced builder. Without formal architectural education, the second home Cliff May designed and built was prominently featured in a 1934 issue of Architectural Digest devoted to important southern California architects. While the May house was not elegant or imposing, more Americans would live in a version of his California ranch-style home than any of the other featured designers’ work combined. A sixth-generation Californian, May’s vision for the perfect home was rooted in his appreciation and understanding of the common, traditional U-shaped adobe house, the rancho.
In 1939 Paul Revere Williams designed this one story U-shaped home (image 8) with stables on 29-acres (the Peppergate Ranch) on Chatsworth reservoir as the primary residence for Talton R. Craig, founder of Craig Movie Supply Company. (Historic-Cultural Monument Application 11/18/2010) Described at the time as a “California rancho type house” (California Arts & Architecture, April 1940) reminiscent of early haciendas, Williams’ design included many of May’s ideas. While not the ubiquitous ranch-style that would populate many American subdivisions in the 1950s and 60s, the Craig house was Williams’ take on crafting a custom deluxe home specially built for the seclusion, comfort, and relaxation of the home’s owner. With an appreciation for the physical location and natural landscape, Williams placed the stucco, stone veneer, and wood house on a knoll overlooking a valley. The rooms were simple, open and informal with exposed beam ceilings. Banks of paned windows were an ”invisible separation” bringing in light and nature connecting the interior space to the outdoors. (images 4 and 5)From early in his career Paul Revere Williams was an enthusiastic proponent for incorporating the California outdoor life style into his home designs by extending usable living space to take advantage of the mild climate. The U-shape design of this house with its continuous veranda embraces the Bombridge designed swimming pool underscoring the relationship between outdoors and indoors space. (images 8 and 9) The veranda, an essential element of the rancho style, created “a continuous shade and cooling-off space … the meeting points where the landscape and the house fuse.” (Sunset, February 1944)
Though Williams designed the original house for local businessman Talton Craig, the current owners have documented a long and varied list of the famous and not-so-famous of Hollywood who called the house their home. Local lore suggests that one of the three basements was used as a sanctuary for Japanese Americans hiding from internment during World War II and “drug fueled” parties of the sixties were attended by psychedelic rockers and their entourage of groupies. Through the years the house underwent a number of remodelings, not always sympathetic to the Williams’ aesthetic. Because the present owners appreciate the home’s “charm and grandeur,” they hope to undo some of the previous work and preserve it for future generations. In April 2011, their hard work was rewarded when the house was given official status as Historic-Cultural Monument #992. (City of Los Angeles, Department of City Planning. Office of Historic Resources Publication, April 2011)
Images 10-14 show this house as it was originally.