Even more than with Eichler homes, to appreciate a May you have to get up close. Almost every home is set well back from the street and guarded by a fence. Each is different. The result is a discontinuous streetscape, with neighbors living in what Roger Russell calls a "compound." "Once you're home," Burke says, "you're sort of sequestered."
Still, people say it's a friendly neighborhood. Many meet walking dogs at nearby El Dorado Park. And many know each other already, often through their connections to the world of design. "It's a small world," says newcomer Tim Stamps.
The fences also provide privacy and add to the usable space of the house. The houses, often L-shaped, and either attached to garages and carports, or set slightly back from them, open onto courtyards through floor-to-ceiling doors. With the paired French doors opened, the houses appear more like summer pavilions, or even tents, than rigid enclosures. "We honestly feel that the square footage of the house includes the outside area," Russell says.
Board-and-batten siding provide a farmhouse-look to the post-and-beam houses. Similar siding once covered the fronts of garages, too many of which have since gotten roll-up doors. Chimneys are brick, and clerestory glass fills many gable-ends. Bedrooms generally fill one wing in an L-shaped plan, with an open living-dining area facing a central courtyard on one side and s small backyard on the other. Kitchens are galleys, and many have been opened even more to the interior through sensitive remodeling.
The houses are built on five-foot modules—each half of the paired French doors is two-and-a-half feet wide, as are windows. "Five, five, five," Tim Stamps says, counting down the modules appreciatively. "Really simple houses. You could probably build them in a day, if you knew what you were doing, back then."
Living areas have vaulted ceilings with exposed beams for that open look. The smaller bedrooms share 'Jack-and-Jill' closets—half the closet opening to one room, the other half to the other—often bordered with translucent glass to provide light without compromising privacy. Exterior siding is redwood, living area interiors birch and drywall. Some ceilings are tongue-and-groove, others Celotex, a composition board. Many people have replaced the Celotex with natural wood.
The houses are not without problems. Insulation is weak. Storage is never enough. Many people add a closet or two by bumping out their bedrooms—still keeping them beneath the eaves, however, to preserve the lines. And because of the glass, Roger and Casey Russell don't have enough wall space for their art collection. "It's a nice problem for us to have," says Roger, a marketing director at the surf and skate-wear retailer Quiksilver.
The Russells, who bought their house last year and spent five months redoing it before moving in, added insulation in the ceiling, and opened up the kitchen and created even more space by removing the washer-dryer to the garage. Like many people, they removed linoleum and polished their concrete slab till it turned silvery grey. "It can take diamond polishing like marble or terrazzo," Casey says.
"I don't find it hard on my feet yet, and we don't find it that cold—unless it's extremely cold," Roger says.
Although the variety of fencing prevents the Ranchos from achieving a unified look, the neighborhood is surprisingly intact, Doug Kramer says. He's been talking about making Rancho Estates a historic district, noting that Long Beach already has many such districts. "Our goal is not to be restrictive but have design guidelines people can embrace," he says.
A handful of volunteers have begun to survey the area to determine whether it would qualify as a historic district. David Thompson supports the idea, with reservations. Over the years a few houses have been bulldozed, something he'd like to prevent in the future. He'd also supports re-zoning to prevent second-story additions. Linda Stamps, who moved to the Ranchos with her husband Tim in 2004, also supports historic designation. "I think it's a really important neighborhood, the architecture is beautiful, and there are not many historic older neighborhoods like this."