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Through the years with SAH/SCC, one of the most rewarding aspects has been rediscovering talented, but forgotten, architects. My recent work on “Bakersfield Built: Architecture of 1930”—last fall’s CSU Bakersfield exhibit, symposium, and tour—presented me with just such an opportunity.

Hidden away in the dusty shed of a family home were 37 boxes of plans, photos, and ephemera from the late architect Clarence Cullimore, Sr., FAIA, one of the greatest advocates for “modern adobe” in the 20th century.

An historian as well as an architect, Cullimore (1885-1963) visited adobes throughout the state, photographing and sketching what he found. In 1930, Cullimore and his wife, Rosemary, traveled to Europe where he studied the buildings of Spain. Photographic evidence indicates he also visited with adobe advocate and architect John Byers (1875-1966) in Santa Monica.

During the 1920s, Cullimore designed and built dozens of adobe houses in Bakersfield and the surrounding area. The architect helped establish construction guidelines for overcoming the two most important disadvantages of adobe construction: erosion and seismic instability. By the 1930s, it became a thriving practice for him. The availability of labor and the inexpensive nature of the building material made adobe an attractive choice during the Great Depression—and a widely adopted one in the San Joaquin Valley. The material was also given a vote of confidence when the Federal Housing Authority granted its first loan for adobe construction to Bakersfield’s Stanfield Residence (Cullimore, 1935).

The Central Valley’s climate made adobe a logical choice for construction as well. The insulating properties of adobe walls keep the houses cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

In plan, Cullimore’s adobe designs diverged from traditional adobe floor plans in which additive extensions relied on an exterior corridor for circulation. In contrast, Cullimore’s designs utilize modified open plans, which helped distinguish these homes as “Modern” adobes. In the words of the architect, “The simplicity of line and the absence of unnecessary ornamentation are not at all out of line with the most modern tendencies.” And while Cullimore also designed many wood and plaster residences in period revival styles, his preference for the romance and practicality of quality adobe construction is the hallmark of his legacy as an architect, author, and educator.

During the late 1930s the Berkeley-trained Cullimore returned to graduate school at the University of Southern California to earn a Master’s degree for his thesis on the science and construction of adobe buildings. In 1941, he authored the first of his published books,Old Adobes of Forgotten Fort Tejon, and became an authoritative voice in the site’s preservation.

Cullimore’s residential adobe designs received national recognition in trade magazines, such as California Arts & Architecture, Architect and Engineer, and more popularly in Better Homes and Gardens and Sunset.

In combing through the Cullimore papers for the exhibit, it quickly became evident that Cullimore designed dozens of residences in and around Los Angeles both before and after World War II. His body of work here in Southern California remains relatively unknown and worthy of further study. The Cullimore family is now seeking a permanent home for the papers of Clarence Cullimore, Sr., FAIA, as well as those of his son, architect Clarence Cullimore, Jr., AIA, who was active in the development of California’s Historic Building Code, and who passed away in April 2014. Let’s hope the Cullimore family legacy finally gets its due in 2015!

Sian Winship

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