Lutah Maria Riggs
Early life and education
Lutah Maria Riggs was born on October 31, 1896 in Toledo, Ohio. Having lost her father to illness at the age of nine, Riggs’ stepfather relocated the family to Santa Barbara in search of new employment in 1914 where she enrolled at the Santa Barbara Junior College and worked as a bookkeeper at Woolworth’s to help earn money to support the family. Eventually, she won a scholarship which allowed her to advance her studies at the University of California in Berkeley.
Riggs began her architectural training at the University of California, Berkeley following in the legacies of women pioneers Julia Morgan and Lilian Rice. Distinguished architect and founder of Berkeley, John Galen Howard mentored Riggs and helped her to hone her impressive drafting skills. Graduating in 1919, Riggs won the Alumni Prize and was able to finance a continuation of her education by taking graduate classes. While keeping busy with her studies, Riggs gained experience by working as a draftswoman for a small firm in San Francisco as well as for the Ridel Building Corporation and the San Francisco City Engineers Office. These work experiences laid the foundations for Riggs’ mature career in architecture.
Career in Architecture
Because of the economic decline after World War I, Riggs struggled greatly to find a permanent position in an architecture firm. Although she had exceptional work experience and excellent drafting skills as a student, Riggs did not secure a job until 1921 with Santa Barbara-based architect George Washington Smith, an advocate of the popular Spanish revival style in California. Riggs had first applied to work in the firm of Julia Morgan but was rejected because Morgan wanted a balance of both women and men architects in her studio.
Smith became a significantly influential figure in Riggs’ life and career, as he and his wife took Riggs on trips all over the world where she was exposed to the architectural heritage and modern stylistic trends of the international community. In 1924 Smith supported her as she competed in the “A Small House in Brick” design contest, in which she won the fourth place prize. That same year she was made a partner and chief drafter of the firm, followed by an era of super-productivity in which she designed her own home (“Clavelitos”), earned her license to practice architecture in the state of California (1928), and would have been made a full partner in the Smith firm had Smith himself not passed away unexpectantly in the year 1930. Following Smith’s death. Riggs collaborated with Harold Edmondson to finish up the remaining projects before setting out on her own.
Riggs was able to secure work after losing Smith with Los Angeles-based artist A.E. Hanson, with whom she collaborated on a gated suburban community in Palos Verdes called Rolling Hills in 1935. Joining the AIA in 1936, Riggs worked on additions and remodellings on Smith homes and worked on one of the biggest projects of her career, the Baron Maximillian von Romberg Villa and Estate in Montecito (1937-38). She created eighteen designs out of which eight were built for the Rolling Hills Estates in 1939. In 1941 she served as the president of the Santa Barbara chapter of the AIA (also in 1953) and met associate chapter president Marion Manley at the annual meeting at Yosemite National Park. Riggs also worked on designing film sets during the early 1940s for MGM and Warner Brothers (The White Cliffs of Dover, 1944, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945).
The period of design which best affirmed Lutah Maria Riggs’ status as an exceptional architect was during the 1950s. During this time, she created most of her well-known works and those which her reputation would be most associated with. Some of these projects include the Vedanta Temple, the remodeling of El Paseo, the adjoining Suski Building in Santa Barbara, and the gardens of “Villa San Giuseppe.” She was the first woman from California to be admitted to the FAIA in 1960. The two works which mark the conclusion of her long career are the Wright S. Ludington house in Montecito and the Jack C. Antrim House in Goleta, both in the 1970s. Lutah Maria Riggs passed away on March 8, 1984 in Montecito, California where she spent the majority of her later life tending to her sick mother. Notable for the presence of Andalusian influences and interpretations in buildings and landscapes in her work, Riggs capitalized on the legacy of early women pioneers in the world of architecture and set the standards for all inheriting women architects to live up to.
Major Buildings and Projects
- Lutah Maria Riggs House, “Clavelitos,” Montecito, CA. (1926)
- Lockwood Cabin, Lake Arrowhead, CA.
- Vedanta Temple, Santa Barbara, CA.
- Expansion to the El Paseo historic complex, Santa Barbara, CA.
Riggs, Lutah M. “Beautiful Gillespie Estate Fine Example of Mediterranean Type.” Santa Barbara News Press, March 17, 1940, pt. 3, 18.
Riggs, Lutah M. “Mediterranean Sources Varied.” Santa Barabara News Press, March 3, 1940, pt. 3, 17.
Member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 1936
Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), 1960
Member/Commissioner of the California State Board of Architectural Examiners