Recap: Rocky Mountain Cliff May Homes Walking Tour + Talk

On Wednesday, May 23, 2018, we presented Rocky Mountain Cliff May Homes Walking Tour + Talk, the second event in our Modernism Series in partnership with Denver Modernism Week and sponsored by Adrian Kinney, Denver’s Mid-Century Modern Expert. The program was from 4:30 to 6:30 PM and began at the intersection of South Lowell Blvd & West Harvard Ave.

The evening started with a walking tour of Cliff May’s “Magazine Cover Homes” in Denver’s Harvey Park, led by neighborhood historian, Atom Stevens. Attendees learned about what makes the homes unique and historically significant, both locally and nationally, by walking the streets and visiting a home and seeing first-hand what it is like to live in a Cliff May Home. The walking tour was followed by a talk with one of Cliff May’s daughters, Hillary Jessup, who shared her stories about growing up with her famous father and living in the experimental homes that he designed for his family.

About the site: Built between 1954-56, during a significant period of growth for Denver, the Harvey Park neighborhood represents a unique look at the best in merchant home designs during the 1950s, with over a dozen home builders fiercely competing with each other to win over home buyers. This resulted in builders being willing to take risks on new ideas, and local builder D.C. Burns Realty and Trust decided to offer a product that was garnering national attention at the time, the Cliff May Homes. Developed in California by Cliff May and architect Chris Choate, the Cliff May Homes are a patented prefabricated home building system, using a post-and-beam structure combined with factory-built panels, and featuring modern design characteristics. Local builders around the country, including Burns, were licensed to build the system to May/Choate’s strict specifications, and ultimately 170 were built in Harvey Park, the largest such tract outside of California.

About the guide: Harvey Park resident Atom Stevens has lived in a Cliff May Home since 2004, having purchased the house long before he ever heard of Cliff May. Following up on rumors that his house and the others around it were designed by a famous California home designer, Atom conducted research to confirm the Cliff May connection in 2010, and has since been working to uncover and share everything he can about the history of the tract, the prefabricated system, and has even expanded his research to learn about other Cliff May Homes tracts around the country. By sharing his findings widely, he has drawn attention to the neighborhood and has influenced a revival, attracting many residents that have invested heavily in the restoration of their homes. Atom continues to support the idea of preservation through education and has expanded his knowledge to cover all of the homes of Harvey Park, earning recognition as the Harvey Park Community Organization’s neighborhood historian. Atom is also a co-organizer of Denver Modernism Week.

Image and description courtesy of Atom Stevens.