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- Community Blog
When The Historic Record is Flawed
For many years, the headstone of Lilian J. Rice, architect of Rancho Santa Fe, has been etched with an inaccurate birth year. When Lilian Rice, a National City native, passed away on December 22, 1938, she was recognized and revered — countywide and beyond — as a master architect of the highest caliber. As the only woman member of the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architecture, in the 1930s, she held a unique position. Her peers, all men, and east coast transplants, in recognition of her work and life, created the Lilian J. Rice Memorial Fund, that provided scholarships for students of architecture, such was their determination to demonstrate both the loss to the industry and to uphold Rice's fine reputation after her death.
Fast forward to current day and Lilian Rice's name is not quite so revered. There are many published untruths about her life, work and achievements. Although it is well documented that she was the lead designer and resident supervisory architect for Rancho Santa Fe during the 1920s and 30s some vocal historians claim that she lied about this position to garner more residential business. This has damaged Lilian Rice's reputation in recent years and in so doing some of her historic work has been demolished. Along with this negative campaign her name is universally spelled incorrectly and her birth year is often cited as 1888, the date that appears on her headstone. On further investigation into this oddity, a spokesperson from La Vista Memorial Park Cemetery, where the Rice family is laid to rest, explained that the headstones were restored several years ago by well-meaning volunteers after vandalism had all but destroyed them. It was then that the mistake was made on Lilian's headstone. Lilian Rice's birth certificate shows clearly that she was born on June 12, 1889.
In an effort to correct the historic record, Diane Y. Welch, a Solana Beach resident, and Lilian Rice's official biographer, as designated by a family descendent, and author of the award-winning book, Lilian J. Rice, Architect of Rancho Santa Fe, California [Schiffer, 2010] arranged for the headstone to be corrected on December 6, 2012, at 10 am, by La Jolla Stone Etching Company, owned by Tara Tarrant. The project was funded by Miriam W. Sellgren, the great, great granddaughter of President Ulysses S. Grant, who is a living descendent, by marriage, of Lilian Rice. Sellgren's grandmother, Miriam Grant, married John C. Rice, Lilian Rice's brother.
It is hoped that in correcting this unfortunate oversight that, going forward, Lilian Rice's birth year will be attributed correctly. And in bringing her name into the spotlight, in time for the 74th anniversary of her passing, that her rightful place in our state's history will be reclaimed. Lilian Rice has 12 of her buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, many more are designated local historic resources, and the community of Rancho Santa Fe was designated a California State Historical Landmark in 1989, amended to include cultural landmark status in 2004. During her life she employed many up-and-coming architects, men and women, whom she encouraged to advance themselves in their respective fields. Sam Hamill, who designed the San Diego County Administration Building and the Del Mar Fairgrounds, was one such person. Rice was architect to some of Hollywood's brightest stars: Bing Crosby, Pauline Neff, Joseph Schenck, Norma Talmadge, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. She designed the San Dieguito Union High School in 1935 (a WPA project) and the Paul Ecke Ranch house the same year. Several of her homes received honor awards from the AIA, yet few know about her today. It is Diane Welch's mission to keep her memory alive and to restore her fine and noble reputation. "My aim is to bring her out of the shadows of time and to make her relevant today so that her determination and achievements may inspire others to succeed," says Welch.