Architect’s Rancho Santa Fe

Architect’s Rancho Santa Fe

Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.


Book cover for HOMES—"Lilian J. Rice Architect of Rancho Sante Fe, California" by Diane Y. Welch.

Copyright 2009 Darren Edwards
Lilian J. Rice, shown in 1923, designed a U-shaped home for J.B. and Bessie Cushman to resemble an Andalusian farmhouse. The realty office in the Civic Center, known as the Francisco Building, was a food store in the 1930s. Historic photo courtesy Diane Welch; contemporary photos by Darren Edwards (center) and Bertocchini Photography (right)

“Lilian J. Rice: Architect of Rancho Santa Fe, California”
Lilian J. Rice: Architect of Rancho Santa Fe
By Diane Y. Welch
Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, Penn., 224 pages, $49.95
“Excitement is building: the life, work and legacy of Lilian J. Rice”
Reception and book signing: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Solana Beach City Hall, 635 S. Highway 101, Solana Beach
Diane Y. Welch’s book is expected to be available in local bookstores starting next month. In the meantime, it may be ordered online at

The rustic feel of Rancho Santa Fe — its central business and shopping core and many of its oldest homes — owe their look to Lilian Jeannette Rice, one of San Diego’s first female architects. Now, 72 years after her early death, tribute has come, courtesy of Diane Y. Welch and her coffee-table book, “Lilian J. Rice: Architect of Rancho Santa Fe.”
“She defined the modern career woman of her era: well educated, professional and independent,” wrote Welch, a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
But except for architectural historians and a few locals, Rice’s wider body of work was virtually unknown. And even the San Diego Historical Society’s biographical website suggested at one time that her boss, Richard Requa, was responsible for Rancho Santa Fe, not Rice.
Welch spent five years researching Rice’s life and produced a combination biography and photographic tour of many of her buildings.
“How sad that Lilian Rice’s reputation and name had just kind of fallen into the shadows,” she said.
Rice (1889-1938) was the daughter of Julius and Laura Steele Rice, who had moved to National City in 1880, five years ahead of the real estate boom that seized Southern California. Her father, grandfather and uncle became involved in National City development and promotion, but when the boom went bust, Julius returned to teaching.
After graduating from National City High School in 1906, Lilian enrolled at the University of California Berkeley, months after the San Francisco earthquake. She joined the campus Architectural Association and designed her first house for her father in 1908.
One of her professors was John Galen Howard, designer of more than 20 stately buildings on campus and dean of the newly formed architecture department. But Rice also adopted the Arts and Crafts philosophy of “nature-inspired craftsmanship,” Welch said, a reaction to the highly decorative preferences common in the Victorian era.
From 1910 to 1920, Rice traveled, taught and took postgraduate courses, worked part time for San Diego’s first female architect, Hazel Waterman, and then joined the firm of Requa and Jackson as a draftsman. The firm won the commission to design Rancho Santa Fe for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co. But its principals soon turned over the work entirely to Rice.
“Simplicity of design, Rice’s hallmark, showcased her Arts and Crafts ideals,” Welch wrote, “as both residential and commercial buildings were treated with the same attention to quality of craftsmanship and artistic, yet restrained detail. The landscape in effect became her canvas, and her buildings conformed to the lay of the land.”
The ranch was conceived of as a rural getaway for wealthy industrialists from the East. Its architecture took its clues from pueblo and Spanish Revival styles, popularized at the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park, and both Requa and Rice traveled to Spain to gain firsthand knowledge.
Among her projects were the key buildings, including the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, in the civic core, and dozens of private homes, including one for Bing Crosby, who was a key promoter of the Del Mar Racetrack. From 1927, she designed homes in other parts of San Diego, including La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Escondido and La Mesa. Nonresidential work included the ZLAC Rowing Club in Mission Beach and Rice Elementary School in Chula Vista.
But Rice’s career was cut short when she contracted ovarian cancer and died Dec. 22, 1938. She never married, probably because she had decided to pursue a full-time professional career that few married women had available to them.
“She was an independent woman on a career path and would not throw it all away for a relationship,” Welch said.


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