Lilian J. Rice, Master Architect

Lilian Jennette Rice was born in National City, San Diego County, California in 1888. Supported by strong-minded parents, her father an educator and her mother an artist, she was one of the first women to earn a degree in architecture from the University of California Berkeley, class of 1910. Her professor and dean of the department was the master Beaux-arts architect John Galen Howard, who was also the UC Berkeley campus architect. Having successfully completed her studies Lilian returned home and for the next few years served as a draftswoman for the noted architect and daughter-in-law of California Governor Waterman, Hazel Waterman. The project Lilian may have participated in was the reconstruction of the Casa Estudillo in Old Town San Diego. The faithful recreation of the 1830s adobe included well-researched adobe brick building methods, an experience that would remain with Lilian throughout her career.

Lilian also taught mechanical drawing and descriptive geometry at the high school and college levels in San Diego. A student of hers was a young Sam Hamill. Hamill was a junior draftsman for the noted Requa & Jackson architectural firm at the time. Later he continued his architectural training at UC Berkeley, at Lilian’s urging. Hamill went on to become one of San Diego’s leading post war Modernists. Later Lilian would employ another young architect named Lloyd Ruocco, who also went on to be a innovative and expressive Modernist architect as well.

Lilian’s University of California Berkeley graduation picture, circa 1910.

Around 1920 Lilian joined the firm of Requa & Jackson. Her timing was perfect as she was chosen by Requa himself to assume the project management role in site planning and architectural design for a new community in the north county, Rancho Santa Fe. Requa put his full trust in her knowing she was well-trained talented, and mature enough for the task.

In historian Lauren Farber’s thesis, (University of Delaware), The Richest Source of Inspiration: The Spanish Revival, Lilian Rice, and the Development of Rancho Santa Fe, the author wrote:

Osuna #2, Architect Lilian Rice seated on car, circa 1924.

“Rice’s first task was to assist in the creation of a site for the Civic Center, the focal point of Sinnard’s subdivision scheme . . . a standard Beaux-Arts and City Beautiful planning device which utilized landscaping, plazas, and parks to create a strongly-defined civic image . . . a formalized, axial plan featuring a main, landscaped boulevard (Paseo Delicias) and a major terminating focal point (La Morada, the Inn) – within typically picturesque suburban layout of curvilinear roads and irregularly-shaped building and orchard lots. Rice’s contribution to the design of Rancho Santa Fe was her synthesis of a specific vocabulary of elements drawn from Spanish and Spanish Colonial sources with the needs of the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company in order to create, in her words, ‘a community that would contain the simplicity and charm of a Spanish village’.”

Lilian’s design prowess was fully realized at Rancho Santa Fe from 1922 through her death in 1938. Her personal style was informed by her affinity toward indigenous earthen architecture of her region, her personal travels to Spain and other Latin based cultures, and exposure to master architect John Galen Howard at UC Berkeley. She was far more understated in architectural nuance than that of her peer, Richard Requa. Where Requa moved more toward grander and complex architectural statements in San Diego, Lilian created composite scenes of serenity and quiet beauty in Rancho Santa Fe.

Lilian’s roster of clients appreciated her personal touches in design as she interpreted her feelings for the Ranch into their living spaces—she felt as though she had a distinct advantage of being a woman architect where she could provide a more detailed level of quality-of-life design. She designed as much for Rancho Santa Fe as she did for her clientele.

In several issues of the Rancho Santa Fe Association publication, Progress, she is consistently referred to as, ‘architect-in-charge’, or ‘supervising architect’. Her body of work spans the commercial and civic core of Rancho Santa Fe as well as a significant number of notable residences, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. In a July 1928 article in the national trade magazine, The Architect and Engineer, she wrote:

“Rancho Santa Fe was started six years ago [1922]. A large corporation with immense resources of capital desired to create a permanent horticultural development on this old Spanish land grant of some 9000 acres. L. G. Sinnard was selected as the man with the vision and sensibilities to carry out the project and W. E. Hodges, vice-president of the Santa Fe Railroad, gave him carte blanche to do as he willed in the matter of architectural and community planning. Requa and Jackson were selected by Mr. Sinnard as official architects because of their outstanding work in Ojai. It became my privilege to work out the details of design on the ground at Rancho Santa Fe and in time the entire responsibility was thrown upon my shoulder.”


RSF Santa Fe Land Improvement Company Offices — 16915 Avenida de Acacias
Lilian Jennette House (Senior Center) –16780 La Gracia
La Flecha House – 6036 La Flecha
Charles Shaffer House – 5610 La Crescenta
Claude & Florence Terwilliger – 5880 San Elijo
Pearl Baker, Row House – 6122 Paseo Delicias
Edith McGrew Row House – 6122 Paseo Delicias
Reginald & Constance Clotfelter Row House – 6122 Paseo Delicias
Samuel Bingham House – 6427 La Valle Plateada
Norman & Florence Carmichael – 6855 La Valle Plateada
George A. Christiancy House – 17078 El Mirador

La Flecha House, circa 1925, Architect Lilian Rice on stairs. (Images © RSFHS)