RANCHO SANTA FE — In the spring, author Diane Y. Welch will fulfill what’s become an intimate personal calling with the release of “Lilian J. Rice: Architect of Rancho Santa Fe, California” by Schiffer Publishing.
It’s been a long road for the English-born writer that began in 2005 when she researched a local history story for the San Diego Union-Tribune about the San Dieguito Academy.
“I noticed the architect was Lilian J. Rice and wanted to know why a lady in 1936 was designing high schools,” she said. “I couldn’t find a single book in the public library. I thought, ‘Someone needs to write a book; this is significant.’”
On June 12, Welch wrote a journal entry vowing to write that book.
“I found out later it was Lilian’s birthday,” she said. “I got goose bumps and my hair stood up on my arm. It was serendipitous and sparked me in to action.”
Welch began by traveling to National City, where Rice was born and raised, pouring over newspaper archives at the library. She also relied on the archives of the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society.
Her biggest break came when she discovered research donated to the UCLA library by historian Harriet Rochlin for an article written in the 1970s about female architects in California.
A thesis titled “Lilian J. Rice, The Lady as Architect” written by USD student Lucinda Eddy in the 1980s provided additional insight to Rice’s body of work.
“No one wrote anything until 1970,” Welch said. “How odd that no one thought to interview Lilian J. Rice while she was alive. There was this exceptional woman and no one sat down to get her story.”
Rice is credited with designing the major structures in Rancho Santa Fe including the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, the commercial block at La Granada and Paseo Delicias and the first elementary school.
Other projects include the Paul Ecke Ranch, the Escondido Municipal Water Company offices and the ZLAC Rowing Club in Pacific Beach as well as scores of homes.
Ten of Rice’s buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places with many recognized as local historic landmarks. Rice received three honor awards from the AIA in 1933.
Rice’s biography also provides valuable insight into the development of San Diego.
“The work of architect Lilian Rice is important to the history of San Diego’s built landscape,” said Gabe Selak, public programs manager for the San Diego Historical Society. “Having a definitive biography of her work is significant, not only that it houses a compilation of source materials available about Rice’s works in one edition, but also that it saves those stories for future generations to learn more about her contributions.”
In addition to being an author and historian, Welch has a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and an Master of Arts in Art Education from Leeds University in Great Britain.
“My book bridges three worlds: traditional scholarship, aesthetics and storytelling,” she said. “Lilian Rice’s story is who I am.”
For more information, visit dianewelch.com.
The second installment about Welch’s upcoming biography on Lilian J. Rice will appear on Oct. 9.