RANCHO SANTA FE — Local celebrities, artists, designers, filmmakers, architects and photographers came out for the invitation-only inaugural Diane Welch Celebrity Walking Tour on Sunday afternoon.The event spotlights stars from the Golden Era of Hollywood who called Rancho Santa Fe “home” during the 1920s and 30s.Welch is the official biographer of master architect Lilian J. Rice, lead designer and architectural supervisor of the village of Rancho Santa Fe. Her book, “Lilian J. Rice: Architect of Rancho Santa Fe, California” (Schiffer, 2010) won Best of Biography at the San Diego Book Awards in 2011.
Rice’s architecture provided the backdrop for the tour as many celebrities shopped, pumped gas, dined, imbibed and lived in structures designed by the master architect.
“I knew that I wanted to offer the walking tours as the spring approached,” Welch recalled. “With the longer days it is delightful to stroll through the village, then relax with a presentation and hors d’oeuvres in the historic Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, my partner in the tour. The Inn was designed by Lilian Rice in 1923.”
The previous year Rice designed the Garage Quadrangle, also known as the Badger Block, at Via de Santa Fe and Paseo Delicias. The quadrangle was the site of Badger’s Service Station on the corner and Lucile Badger’s Fountain Lunch, a popular gathering spot.
A story Welch likes to tell is of crooner and actor Bing Crosby who brought visibility to the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club and was instrumental in the development of the Del Mar Racetrack.
“He drove a Studebaker that he didn’t take very good care of and would go into Lucile Badger’s Fountain Lunch after hours and help himself to a beer from the refrigerator shouting, ‘Put it on my account’ as he went out the door,” she said.
“Howard Hughes rented a home here, moving in with his wife Susan Peters and round-the-clock bodyguards. When the lease was up, he refused to move and kept paying the homeowners to travel more.”
Welch also shares local lore about Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford who owned Rancho Zorro, now Fairbanks Ranch.
“Douglas was upbraided by E.B. Maddux, groundsman for the Rancho Santa Fe Inn when it was called La Morada, for practicing his golf swing with a horse whip on newly planted grass,” she said.
Other movie stars who frequented the Ranch in the early days include George Brent, Victor Mature, George Lewis, Robert Wagner, Pauline Neff, Corinne Griffith and Norma Talmadge and husband Joseph Schenck who created 20th Century Pictures with Darryl F. Zanuck. Movie producers King Wallis Vidor and John Stuart Robertson started the Rancho Santa Fe Riding Club. Welch said Errol Flynn made a movie in the Ranch.
“I’ll never drive through the village of Rancho Santa Fe again without thinking of Lilian Rice,” said travel writer Elaine Masters who attended the tour.
A suggested tax-deductible donation of $30 per person will benefit the nonprofit Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center.
“The Center has been very supportive of my work as an author and, in return, I have wanted to give back,” Welch explained. “I donated a private walking tour of the village as a silent auction item for a fundraiser for the senior center, and the winning bid was $300. I realized that these walks could be an ongoing gift to them.”
Attorney Carla DiMare is president of the board of the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center.
“The Senior Center thanks Diane for her extremely informative tours of Rancho Santa Fe,” she said. “We encourage everyone to come to the senior center. We exist 100 percent on donations and encourage people to donate to us and participate. They’ll find that the center is well managed by board members who include financial professionals.”
Welch has a movie about Rice’s life and work in the development stage with Sakir Pictures, Inc. Her second book on Rice will be released in 2014. She also won the SOHO (Save Our Heritgae Organization) People in Preservation Award.
For more information, visit lilianjrice.com, facebook.com/LilianJRice or contact Welch directly via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (858) 523-1182.