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Architect Lilian Rice, shown viewing Rancho Santa Fe's topography. Courtesy photo
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Biographer gives lecture on RSF architect Rice

On Oct. 24, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch residents had the opportunity to hear Diane Welch, an official Lilian Rice biographer, lead an educational lecture highlighting the master architect. The free event was hosted by Fairbanks Ranch residents Mike and Lori Conger and the venue was the Fairbanks Ranch Association Clubhouse.

Welch has two published books about the architect titled, “The Life and Times of Lilian J. Rice, Master Architect” and “Lilian J. Rice: Master Architect of Rancho Santa Fe.”

Welch received a first-place win at the San Diego Book Awards for “The Life and Times of Lilian J. Rice, Master Architect,” under the biography category.

Lilian Rice

The American Institute of Architects has recognized Rice for her architectural accomplishments while her residences and other structures have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places or as County Landmarks.

Diane Welch
Photo by Leslie Hoffman

Welch said she was delighted when Lori Conger reached out to her about kicking off an educational series for residents of Fairbanks Ranch.

Welch described her presentation as twofold. She first offered guests a visual presentation and talked about Rice’s life and her contribution in the world of architecture. Rice played a valuable role in managing the “master-planned” community of Rancho Santa Fe. Additionally, she architecturally designed homes for high-profile celebrities in the region.

Welch then segued into the history of Rancho Zorro, as it was known in the 1920s, when it was first owned by Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford. Guests had the opportunity to see vintage photographs.

Welch described the visuals as an eye candy presentation.

“It’s wonderful to show how idyllic and how beautiful Fairbanks was back in the day when it was known as Rancho Zorro,” Welch said.

Welch went onto explain how Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford purchased Block K from the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company, the real estate arm of the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe Railroad Company, in 1926.

“The SFLIC had purchased the former Spanish Land Grant of Rancho San Dieguito in 1908 to grow Eucalyptus trees for railroad ties and fences,” she said. “When that failed, due to a lack of water, the land was subdivided for sale as ‘gentleman ranchos’ and in the 1920s marketing of the master-planned community attracted wealthy buyers.

“Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford were the most famed celebrity couple at that time — both were Hollywood A list actors. When they received word about the development, they came to the newly named Rancho Santa Fe, planning to recreate an idyllic setting, reminiscent of a Spanish village.”

Welch also noted how the couple bought additional acres close to the Lusardi Ranch with the goal of planting a citrus grove.

“They hired a manager to oversee their ranch, Rancho Zorro. Sadly, the couple divorced within a few years of the purchase and the dream was never realized.”

Welch said she hopes that her attendees walked away with two things. The first, learning how remarkable Lilian Rice was and how she should be getting more recognition for her accomplishments. Everything that Welch presented that evening, and in her books about Rice, is factual, she said.

“Lillian Rice was a lady architect in the Depression Era in America — a time when most women absolutely struggled to get into the profession,” she said. “And we struggle now to get recognition for what they did.” Welch added she continues to be a champion for Rice. “The other I’d like everyone to take away is how different Fairbanks Ranch was after the 1920s, 1930s.”

For more information about Welch and her Lilian Rice biographies, visit