This article was originally published in the Anaheim Historical Society’s January 2010 newsletter.  I have been in touch with the author and we have shared much information on Ross Cortese, who developed and built four very distinctive tracts of single-family residential h0mes, before going onto even more success as the developer f the Leisure World senior communities.   Cortese’s first tract in this area was the Lakewood Rancho Estates in Long Beach, northeast of the corner of Studebaker & Spring.  he built these using a prefab design by Cliff May and Chris Choate.  Cortese used these same plans for his Frematic Homes in Anaheim.  For his much bigger development of Rossmoor, Cortese parted ways with may and Choate, but still used many of their ideas in his collaboration with architect Earle Kaltenbach, who had just finished designing Tomorrowland for the brand new Disneyland.

By Dave Bell
In the mid-1950s, Ross W. Cortese (RWC) built 2 Anaheim “Frematic” tracts. After over half a century, these continue to be among the very few truly modern tract houses ever built. The houses that still possess most or all of the original styling features have great architectural significance.

THE BUILDER

In 1954 RWC built the Long Beach “Rancho” tract of about 619 modern homes at Spring & Studebaker. Cliff May was the architect. After building our modern LaPalma-Brookhurst & Gilbert-Broadway tracts in Anaheim, RWC then built another tract in Rossmoor. After that, he stopped building tracts and instead built 8 active-adult/senior communities with a total capacity of about 60,000 people: two were Leisure World in Seal Beach & Laguna Woods. RWC accomplished all this starting as a fruit peddler (to help support his family in Glendale) with a 10th-grade education. He died Oct 31, 1991 at age 74 in Orange, CA.

THE TRACTS

The LaPalma-Brookhurst tract has 156 modern houses, built mostly in 1955 on lots varying from 6,000 to 7,000 sq. ft. There are 4 basic models: High-roof & low-roof with1,480 sq. ft. and high-roof & low-roof with 1,240 sq. ft. The 11 non-modern houses at the south end of Lotus apparently were built in 1962 & NOT by RWC.
The Gilbert-Broadway tract has 216 modern houses built mostly in 1956. About a third have 6,000 sq. ft. lots and the rest vary up to 10,000 sq. ft.

  • High-roof & low-roof 1480 sq. ft. models same as the La P.-B. tract . . .
  • But the Gilbert tract has a higher percentage of the highroof 1,480 sq. ft. houses than La P.-B.
  • High-roof & low-roof 1,336 sq. ft. models have a back door & inside laundry area.
  • 4 non-modern houses at the east end of Transit are believed to be RWC’s first display models for the City of Rossmoor, under construction in 1957.

CONSTRUCTION & STYLING

RWC’s houses have a “post & beam” skeleton. This is completely different from the “platform framing” concept (or its predecessor, “balloon framing”) used to build many “postwar” tract houses. One advantage of the post & beam construction in our houses is that windows & doors can be relocated in four-foot increments without worrying about load-bearing walls.
The 2 key styling features are the “indoor-outdoor” concept and the ultra-low profile. Both of these give the illusion of larger houses on larger lots, as viewed from the inside and from the outside. The floor-to-roof glass blurs the boundary of the house. When you’re out in the typical 15’ deep back yard, it seems bigger because your field of vision extends into the house instead of stopping at a tall, solid wall. The panels of textured glass admit diffused natural sunlight and make what you view through them fade, as if looking off into a much greater distance. The houses really are lower than traditional ranch houses. The house is on a slab, end walls are 7’ high instead of 8’, the roof rises at only about 9 degrees, and the 4’ overhangs further keep the modest-sized houses from looking small & boxy (“low & sleek” has been the hallmark style of sports cars over many decades). Inside, the open-beam ceilings give a spacious feel, but the “shelves” positioned just
above door top level create intimate areas and provide a perfect location to install indirect lighting or recessed down-lights. If you reduce the glass area, install window coverings, cut off the extended beams and rafters or cover the ceiling rafters with drywall, this will definitely make the houses look, well… small, boxy & dark.
Please feel free to contact us or come by to see our house (weekends are best).
Dave and Sandie Bell
Home phone 714.776.6564
Home email: 1950s-modern@sbcglobal.net
Editor’s Note: Dave Bell is a Mechanical Engineer by profession; and a Member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
(member #46566824)
Page 3

26 thoughts on “1955-56 — Before Rossmoor, Ross Cortese built the Frematic Homes in Anaheim”
  1. In 1960 we purchased a Frematic home, Anaheim site at Gilbert and Broadway. The address is 111 Level Place. We left there and moved to Minnesota in 1972. I am trying to do some research on these homes as I have been studying mid century modern architecture in Las Vegas where we now live. On a recent tour I was reminded that the developments that I was visiting here were so much like our Anaheim home. That piqued my interest in finding out more about the architects responsible for the Frematic designs. A group of us from our old neighborhood have remained friends, on family still lives there! Jack was able to give me the name of Ross Cortese and now I am wanting to know more about the architects and the project history. I am delighted to have your article and post and wonder if you might direct me to more sources of information. Thanking you in advance.
    Sharon Haskell
    6509 Zinnia Court
    Las Vegas NV 89108
    702.395.0990

    1. The Frematic Homes — as well as the Lakewood Rancho Estates were designed by world-famous designer Cliff May and his architect partner Chris Choate.
      Just google Cliff May’s name and you will come up with more information than you ever wanted.
      He is basically the designer who invented the “ranch style” home which revolutionized post WWII architecture.
      Sunset Magazine produced two books of his work. He did a ton of high end homes but in the early 1950s he was intrigued by efficient, economical construction so he and Choate designed a pre-fab house package based on simple interchangeable, modular, (yet easily expandable) post and beam construction. The cost was quite low and this is what intrigued developer Ross Cortese to dump his original Lakewood Rancho design and work with May and Choate. The homes featured garages in front and floor to ceiling rear doors and window which opened to the back yard and made that the entertainment center of the home. This was revolutionary, and is now the standard for almost all new construction.

      I have a lot of info on Cortese and May and I’m trying to put it online when I can. Shorthanding Cortese’s career would go like this.

      • Italian family, migrated from Ohio
      • started doing remodeling work
      • met wife Aloena, whose sister was early movie star. Through her he made connections in mid to late 1940s.
      • after WWII, he builds a tract in Downey
      • As Lakewood becomes the rage as the “instant city of 50,000 (New York Times articles, etc.) , Cortese options land just south and builds Lakewood Rancho Estates – 1953. His partners in the project include California governor Goodwin Knight. To do brochure, he hires the guys who will also very soon create a famous award-winning campaign for Fender guitars. He also heavily markets in LA Times.
      • 1955 – With Disneyland and Anaheim as the hottest thing going, Cortese builds the Frematic Homes. Duplicates deisgns and ad campaign from Lakewood Rancho homes.
      • 1956 – 1961 Cortese builds Rossmoor, at the time the largest project ever built in Orange County.
      • 1961 – Cortese develops concept of Leisure World – just a month or two after Sun City is developed by Del Webb, but Lesiure World has a lot more things to do. Althoughh he will overextend himself a few times, and have to revert to Plan B or C, Cortese focuses on the Leisure World concept the rest of his career.

      One good site to get started for more info is:
      http://www.ranchostyle.com/cliffnotes.html

      http://www.eichlernetwork.com/article/cliff-may-ranchos-rancho-estates-long-beach

      and also check out mid century modern forum at

      http://www.lottaliving.com/bb/

      Click the second link which is also
      http://www.lottaliving.com/bb/viewforum.php?f=4&sid=b5de3a1ece7f875730934adba129e7e6

      Hope these help for starters

      Larry

  2. The Frematic Homes — as well as the Lakewood Rancho Estates were designed by world-famous designer Cliff May and his architect partner Chris Choate.
    Just google Cliff May’s name and you will come up with more information than you ever wanted.
    He is basically the designer who invented the “ranch style” home which revolutionized post WWII architecture.
    Sunset Magazine produced two books of his work. He did a ton of high end homes but in the early 1950s he was intrigued by efficient, economical construction so he and Choate designed a pre-fab house package based on simple interchangeable, modular, (yet easily expandable) post and beam construction. The cost was quite low and this is what intrigued developer Ross Cortese to dump his original Lakewood Rancho design and work with May and Choate. The homes featured garages in front and floor to ceiling rear doors and window which opened to the back yard and made that the entertainment center of the home. This was revolutionary, and is now the standard for almost all new construction.

    I have a lot of info on Cortese and May and I’m trying to put it online when I can. Shorthanding Cortese’s career would go like this.

    • Italian family, migrated from Ohio
    • started doing remodeling work
    • met wife Aloena, whose sister was early movie star. Through her he made connections in mid to late 1940s.
    • after WWII, he builds a tract in Downey
    • As Lakewood becomes the rage as the “instant city of 50,000 (New York Times articles, etc.) , Cortese options land just south and builds Lakewood Rancho Estates – 1953. His partners in the project include California governor Goodwin Knight. To do brochure, he hires the guys who will also very soon create a famous award-winning campaign for Fender guitars. He also heavily markets in LA Times.
    • 1955 – With Disneyland and Anaheim as the hottest thing going, Cortese builds the Frematic Homes. Duplicates deisgns and ad campaign from Lakewood Rancho homes.
    • 1956 – 1961 Cortese builds Rossmoor, at the time the largest project ever built in Orange County.
    • 1961 – Cortese develops concept of Leisure World – just a month or two after Sun City is developed by Del Webb, but Lesiure World has a lot more things to do. Althoughh he will overextend himself a few times, and have to revert to Plan B or C, Cortese focuses on the Leisure World concept the rest of his career.

    One good site to get started for more info is:
    http://www.ranchostyle.com/cliffnotes.html

    http://www.eichlernetwork.com/article/cliff-may-ranchos-rancho-estates-long-beach

    and also check out mid century modern forum at

    http://www.lottaliving.com/bb/

    Click the second link which is also
    http://www.lottaliving.com/bb/viewforum.php?f=4&sid=b5de3a1ece7f875730934adba129e7e6

    Hope these help for starters

    Larry

  3. Sharon,

    This house just sold on Dec 1, 2011. I live in the neighborhood (my family is an original owner) and I went to an open house. I liked the addition onto the back of the house. It seemed to offer this den type living space, and didn’t really diminish the feel of the garden space around the house. Did you complete this addition to the house?

  4. Sharon,

    This house just sold on Dec 1, 2011. I live in the neighborhood (my family is an original owner) and I went to an open house. I liked the addition onto the back of the house. It seemed to offer this den type living space, and didn’t really diminish the feel of the garden space around the house. Did you complete this addition to the house?

    1. Damon, I don’t think so. Maybe Dave would know for sure. Cortese went on to build several of the Leisure World communities and Rossmoor after the Frematic Homes in Anaheim. So I doubt it, but I’m not certain.

    2. Sorry to take so long to respond. I checked everything I could find, and saw no relationship with Cortese and May in the Tustin tracts — but to be sure, which specific tracts in Tustin are we talking about? After the Anaheim Frematics May associated with the George Holtzstein Co. to build some homes in the East Anaheim-Orange area. Towards the end of Rossmoor (c.1959-60) Cortese had a big 2400 home project lined up in Huntington Beach (near Bolsa Chica and Edinger) but then suddenly scrapped it and went pretty much exclusively with the Leisure Worlds up through 1966 (Seal Beach first, then Laguna Hills and Walnut Creek, then projects near Chicago, Princeton, NJ and Maryland. When a credit crunch devastated the housing industry in late 1965 and 1966, Cortese scrapped the Chicago project, and had to sell off much of the Walnut Creek Rossmoor.) I haven’t found out who the architects were on this scrapped Huntington Beach project.

      1. Thanks for the additional info. Do you have any more info on the Anaheim Frematic homes? There isn’t much out there on the internet, and would love to know more, see old ads, etc.

      2. One specific tract is bordered by Irvine Blvd on the north and Red Hill Ave on the west in Tustin. These Cliff May houses date to about 1954.

    1. Damon, I don’t think so. Maybe Dave would know for sure. Cortese went on to build several of the Leisure World communities and Rossmoor after the Frematic Homes in Anaheim. So I doubt it, but I’m not certain.

    2. Sorry to take so long to respond. I checked everything I could find, and saw no relationship with Cortese and May in the Tustin tracts — but to be sure, which specific tracts in Tustin are we talking about? After the Anaheim Frematics May associated with the George Holtzstein Co. to build some homes in the East Anaheim-Orange area. Towards the end of Rossmoor (c.1959-60) Cortese had a big 2400 home project lined up in Huntington Beach (near Bolsa Chica and Edinger) but then suddenly scrapped it and went pretty much exclusively with the Leisure Worlds up through 1966 (Seal Beach first, then Laguna Hills and Walnut Creek, then projects near Chicago, Princeton, NJ and Maryland. When a credit crunch devastated the housing industry in late 1965 and 1966, Cortese scrapped the Chicago project, and had to sell off much of the Walnut Creek Rossmoor.) I haven’t found out who the architects were on this scrapped Huntington Beach project.

      1. Thanks for the additional info. Do you have any more info on the Anaheim Frematic homes? There isn’t much out there on the internet, and would love to know more, see old ads, etc.

      2. One specific tract is bordered by Irvine Blvd on the north and Red Hill Ave on the west in Tustin. These Cliff May houses date to about 1954.

  5. Regarding Mr. Cortese, I wonder if there are any records that show that he might have had an office on Westcliff Dr. in Newport Beach.

    I was examining the ‘Original’ (largest) version of the following photo that appears on the Orange County Archives Collection in Flickr and noticed two interesting details which might of course be simply coincidental:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ocarchives/6170368253/

    In the middle of the photo, just above the Falcon and the Pontiac, there’s an office that appears to have the words ‘Cortese Enterprises’ on the wall above its window.

    Off in the distance in the same photo, above the roof of that 1958 Chevrolet that’s driving away from the viewer, there’s an office that appears to display that distinctive double-stacked diamond logo used by Walker & Lee Real Estate. I recall reading elsewhere on this site that Walker & Lee were the selling agents for Rossmoor and for Lakewood Rancho Estates in Long Beach, an earlier Cortese development.

    Did Cortese and Walker & Lee have further collaborations after these?

    1. Gosh, my Grandfather would have known the answer to this, but he is long gone from this world. After they bought this Frematic Home in Anaheim in the mid 50’s, My grandpa worked with Cortese to design and build an addition onto the front of our house, I think sometime in the 60’s. He would have for sure known where the office was. Chapman University has a big fountain named after Cortese. I wonder if their library would have documents with answers to your questions. Good Luck!

  6. Regarding Mr. Cortese, I wonder if there are any records that show that he might have had an office on Westcliff Dr. in Newport Beach.

    I was examining the ‘Original’ (largest) version of the following photo that appears on the Orange County Archives Collection in Flickr and noticed two interesting details which might of course be simply coincidental:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ocarchives/6170368253/

    In the middle of the photo, just above the Falcon and the Pontiac, there’s an office that appears to have the words ‘Cortese Enterprises’ on the wall above its window.

    Off in the distance in the same photo, above the roof of that 1958 Chevrolet that’s driving away from the viewer, there’s an office that appears to display that distinctive double-stacked diamond logo used by Walker & Lee Real Estate. I recall reading elsewhere on this site that Walker & Lee were the selling agents for Rossmoor and for Lakewood Rancho Estates in Long Beach, an earlier Cortese development.

    Did Cortese and Walker & Lee have further collaborations after these?

    1. Gosh, my Grandfather would have known the answer to this, but he is long gone from this world. After they bought this Frematic Home in Anaheim in the mid 50’s, My grandpa worked with Cortese to design and build an addition onto the front of our house, I think sometime in the 60’s. He would have for sure known where the office was. Chapman University has a big fountain named after Cortese. I wonder if their library would have documents with answers to your questions. Good Luck!

  7. The Gilbert-Lincoln to Broadway Frematic Homes project, in Anaheim, is also located on historical property, as part of the original Timothy Carroll Ranch groves; sold by my mother, Elizabeth A. Carroll Ralston, and my uncle, Morris J. Carroll, of their inherited property from owner, Timothy Carroll Ranch, as part of an original Mexican Land Grant Property in Los Coyotes. Timothy Carroll, a Cork County, Ireland, immigrant was recognized by the Anaheim Historical Society as a West Anaheim, pioneer, as his arrival and purchase as property owner in 1863 in Anaheim, and known for his ranches with oranges and a variety of produce; and his Evergreen Nursery, where he imported numerous varieties of trees and ornamental plants and shrubs from Australia to Anaheim, given his match of soils, climate, and weather with Australia, while he also donated many of his plants and trees to local schools, parks and landmarks, and around Anaheim for special occasions.

    He was also known for his patented inventions; where I grew-up as a child, while they were constructing these Frematic Homes all around us, once surrounded by orange groves, back in the early to mid 1950’s, where I played and visited with numerous friends in those neighborhood Frematic homes. Timothy Carroll’s last home still stands North of Broadway Street on Mable Street, near the Anaheim train depot, where his Evergreen Nursery was located, close to the delivery of his imported inventory.

    He was known to plant an extremely tall variety of Palm Tree on his boundary lines of his property along Lincoln Avenue, and his now enormous Rubber.Tree in front of his old home off of Broadway, where he originally planted it, that is now about one-hundred and forty years old today, where his original home was relocated and his second enormous home was built on the same original site. The exquisite tall palm trees that were within our property boundaries, suddenly were found missing, later discovered they had been removed/taken by the City of Anaheim, in about the 2000s, by the City of Anaheim for its downtown project, without our family’s consent! Timothy Carroll’s large oil portraits of he and his wife; his patented Carroll beet dump if which he litigated against its patent infringement and won; and his scaled model exhibited and shown and awarded at numerous local, state and world fairs, with an award certificate; and several additional historic items were donated by Elizabeth A. and Morris J. Carroll, to the Anaheim Historical Society. Four generations of our family are laid to rest at the Anaheim Cemetery, located on Sycamore Street in East Anaheim, in a Timothy Carroll family plot (At one time was on the corner in the cemetery, until it filled in that street to make additional burial spaces.) under a huge tree canvas (Many of those tress donated from Carroll’s original imports!)

    1. Thanks for the information. Timothy Carroll was also well known for his invention of the sugar beet dump, a device by which he converted the bed of a sugar beet wagon so one side was on a hinge. The wagon was driven up a ramp and moved so a device could latch onto the wagon and lift the non-hinged side up and tilt the wagon bed so the contents (beets) fell down into a waiting railroad car. The device not only cut the beet dumping process about 25 minutes to five minutes, but also dramatically reduced the necessary labor. Carroll invented it for use with the Chino factory (most of the beets were grown in the Anaheim and Buena Park areas), and when the Los Alamitos Factory was built in 1896-97, the Alamitos factory managers (E.F. Dyer) basically stole Carroll’s idea. Carroll sued and in 1907 his patent was finally upheld in the court system and the Clarks (J. Ross, and Senator William A. Clark, the owners of the factory) and other factory owners had to pay him.
      I also read somewhere where Carroll was the first to import eucalyptus trees into California although I have never seen a second source on this.
      I am pretty sure that Timothy Carroll originally purchased his land from Abel Stearns, prior to the formation of the Stearns Ranchos Company. Stearns had secured the property in the early 1860s when Pio Pico defaulted on a note.

  8. The Gilbert-Lincoln to Broadway Frematic Homes project, in Anaheim, is also located on historical property, as part of the original Timothy Carroll Ranch groves; sold by my mother, Elizabeth A. Carroll Ralston, and my uncle, Morris J. Carroll, of their inherited property from owner, Timothy Carroll Ranch, as part of an original Mexican Land Grant Property in Los Coyotes. Timothy Carroll, a Cork County, Ireland, immigrant was recognized by the Anaheim Historical Society as a West Anaheim, pioneer, as his arrival and purchase as property owner in 1863 in Anaheim, and known for his ranches with oranges and a variety of produce; and his Evergreen Nursery, where he imported numerous varieties of trees and ornamental plants and shrubs from Australia to Anaheim, given his match of soils, climate, and weather with Australia, while he also donated many of his plants and trees to local schools, parks and landmarks, and around Anaheim for special occasions.

    He was also known for his patented inventions; where I grew-up as a child, while they were constructing these Frematic Homes all around us, once surrounded by orange groves, back in the early to mid 1950’s, where I played and visited with numerous friends in those neighborhood Frematic homes. Timothy Carroll’s last home still stands North of Broadway Street on Mable Street, near the Anaheim train depot, where his Evergreen Nursery was located, close to the delivery of his imported inventory.

    He was known to plant an extremely tall variety of Palm Tree on his boundary lines of his property along Lincoln Avenue, and his now enormous Rubber.Tree in front of his old home off of Broadway, where he originally planted it, that is now about one-hundred and forty years old today, where his original home was relocated and his second enormous home was built on the same original site. The exquisite tall palm trees that were within our property boundaries, suddenly were found missing, later discovered they had been removed/taken by the City of Anaheim, in about the 2000s, by the City of Anaheim for its downtown project, without our family’s consent! Timothy Carroll’s large oil portraits of he and his wife; his patented Carroll beet dump if which he litigated against its patent infringement and won; and his scaled model exhibited and shown and awarded at numerous local, state and world fairs, with an award certificate; and several additional historic items were donated by Elizabeth A. and Morris J. Carroll, to the Anaheim Historical Society. Four generations of our family are laid to rest at the Anaheim Cemetery, located on Sycamore Street in East Anaheim, in a Timothy Carroll family plot (At one time was on the corner in the cemetery, until it filled in that street to make additional burial spaces.) under a huge tree canvas (Many of those tress donated from Carroll’s original imports!)

  9. Thank you for this informative post. I have lived in the Brookhurst/La Palma tract since 2008. It pains me to see how so many of the homes in the neighborhood have lost the original design with walls stuccoed over, walls of glass covered up and tacky french window-style vinyl windows. I really wish people interested in honoring these homes would move in and restore them.

  10. Thank you for this informative post. I have lived in the Brookhurst/La Palma tract since 2008. It pains me to see how so many of the homes in the neighborhood have lost the original design with walls stuccoed over, walls of glass covered up and tacky french window-style vinyl windows. I really wish people interested in honoring these homes would move in and restore them.

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