Lilian Jeannette Rice: Master Architect


     THE EARLY YEARS, 1889-1911

     Lilian Jeannette Rice was born in National City, San Diego County, California, on June 12, 1889. Her mother, Laura, was a former teacher, a fine artist, and an interior designer. Rice's father, Julius Augusta, was an educator who served as teacher, principal, district superintendent, and member of the State Board of Education during his years of teaching in southern California. The couple, Vermont natives, arrived in National City in late 1879.

     At one time Julius Rice owned the local newspaper– the National City Record– was one of the city's first trustees, and like most of his neighbors had an orchard and vineyard. During times of economic boom Julius Rice was in real estate sales and development. Rice had an older brother, Jack, nine years her senior. One year prior to her birth, another brother, Walter, died when he was three years old.

Student Years 1906-1911

     Rice was accepted into the Department of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley in 1906, when she was 17 years old. In 1910, Lilian graduated from Cal. then in 1911-12 she completed a post graduate teaching course there. On her return to National City she was able to reconnect with childhood friends, travel and join several women's clubs. She became a member of ZLAC in 1910, the now historic all women's rowing club, named for Zulette Lamb, and sisters, Lena, Agnes and Carolyn Polhamus who started the club in 1892. Forty years later, Rice would design the club's new boathouse in Mission Beach, an AIA award winning design.

                                    A CAREER TAKES WING, 1921


    A part-time teacher and draftswoman, Rice was also employed by the San Diego architectural firm, Requa and Jackson. In 1921 the firm received a commission from the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company, the real estate arm of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company, to design a planned community on the site of a former Spanish land grant, Rancho San Dieguito. Requa sent , Lilian J. Rice, to plan and supervise the initial development which later became Rancho Santa Fe.

    Within months the entire project fell into Rice's capable hands. Lilian is quoted as saying about this project, "With the thought early implanted in my mind that true beauty lies in simplicity rather than ornateness, I found real joy at Rancho Santa Fe. Every environment there calls for simplicity and beauty — the gorgeous natural landscapes, the gently broken topography, the nearby mountains. No one with a sense of fitness, it seems to me, could violate these natural factors by creating anything that lacked simplicity in line and form and color."

     A wide-landscaped avenue provided the focal point for the community's center. The use of adobe wall construction, red tiled roofs, inner courtyards, grillwork around windows and heavy studded doorways gave the impression of a transplanted Spanish village. Townhouses and commercial buildings blended harmoniously with the surrounding topography, and estate homes and cottages reflected the regional ideal of a Mediterranean architectural style.

     Rice wholeheartedly took on the Rancho Santa Fe project. She was both supervisory architect and designer of much of the Civic Center. Subsequently she was commissioned the lion's share of the residential work, over sixty projects.


Rice became one of the three member art jury, formed to ensure that laid down building restrictions were adhered to, and became one of the first trustees for the newly formed school district in Rancho Santa Fe. In 1928 she moved into new offices in La Valenciana apartment building, another AIA award winning design, and by 1929 she had obtained her architectural license. Rice employed many upcoming architects and also many female designers.

                    BEYOND RANCHO SANTA FE, 1927

     As La Jolla was being developed, Rice secured many projects including the Bradley House in 1930. She also designed many projects countywide and continued to be productive during the economic uncertainty of the years of the Great Depression. Her body of work undertaken during the years 1922-1938 is most substantial

     In July 1938, Rice sought medical counsel from La Jolla's Dr. Ross Paull. Within six months Rice died from her terminal cancer. Her death certificate notes epithelioma of the ovarian tissue and intestinal blockage. Lilian Jeannette Rice was 49 when she died December 22, 1938. A poorly written obituary in the local paper, just a few short sentences, gave notice of the funeral arrangements. Rice's remains were interred in the Vista Memorial Cemetery in National City.

                   (Note that the year of birth on the head stone is incorrect - see book for explanation)