Lutah Maria Riggs

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Lutah Maria Riggs
LutahMariaRiggs 1920.jpg
Born(1896-10-31)October 31, 1896
DiedMarch 8, 1984(1984-03-08) (aged 87)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley

Lutah Maria Riggs FAIA (October 31, 1896 – March 8, 1984) was an American architect who worked for several decades in Santa Barbara, California. Born in Toledo, Ohio, she moved with her mother to Santa Barbara after high school, where she returned after receiving a BA in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. From 1921 to 1930, she worked as a draftswoman for George Washington Smith, and she continued to work as an architect in Santa Barbara until 1980, focusing primarily on residential work. She was the first licensed female architect in Santa Barbara,[1] and the first woman in California to be named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Lutah Maria Riggs was born in 1896 in Toledo, Ohio, the only child of a physician and a homemaker. Her father died when she was a child. She graduated from Manual Training High School in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1914.[3] Later that same year, Riggs and her mother moved to Santa Barbara to join her stepfather.

Riggs completed her initial undergraduate studies at Santa Barbara City College, from which she received a certificate in 1917. She then won a scholarship to attend the University of California at Berkeley, from which she received her B.A. in architecture in 1919. Riggs completed graduate coursework at Berkeley in 1920, but moved back to Santa Barbara before finishing her graduate degree to be closer to her ailing mother.[3][4]


Riggs began her architectural career in 1920, working in Susanville as a draftswoman and designer for architect Ralph D. Taylor.[4] After working for Taylor for a few months, she moved to Santa Barbara and worked as a draftswoman for the noted Spanish Revival architect George Washington Smith. Smith and his wife were so taken by Riggs that she became somewhat of a surrogate daughter to the couple.[5] She travelled with the Smith family on their architectural study trips to Mexico in 1922, and Europe in 1924.[3] Also in 1924, Riggs was made partner in the firm, and given the title of chief draftswoman.[3] Riggs eventually became extremely influential in much of the firm's design work, and in some cases was fully responsible for the design of commissions. She contributed significantly to the designs for some of Smith's most well-known buildings, including the Lobero Theatre, El Paseo historical complex, and Casa del Herrero.[3][4][6]

Santa Barbara Vedanta Temple in Montecito, California

In 1928, Riggs obtained her architectural license. She continued to work for George Washington Smith through 1930, when Smith had a sudden heart attack and died. After a short stint working in partnership with colleagues, in 1931 Riggs started her own firm, which she ran until 1942.[4] During these years Riggs completed a fair amount of residential work for wealthy clients in the Santa Barbara/Montecito area, as well as some commercial/institutional work, such as the Blaksley Library at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (1942). She also designed modest residences for the Rolling Hills development on the Palos Verdes peninsula south of Los Angeles. During World War II, Riggs worked briefly as a set designer on MGM and Warner Brothers films.[3]

In 1946 Riggs began a partnership with Arvin Shaw, continuing to focus on residential work, though in a more modernist style, as seen in her design for the Alice Erving house in Montecito (1951). The Erving house is well known for its unique siting that maintains privacy while opening up to expansive views of the surrounding mountains, as well as for its floor-to-ceiling windows and vaulted ceilings. In 1951, she left the partnership to work on her own, continuing to do residential as well as some commercial work. One of her most famous buildings from this era is her design for the Santa Barbara Vedanta Temple (1956), noted for its reflection of early South Indian wooden temple architecture.[7]

In addition to running her practice, Riggs was active in her local AIA chapter, and served on the California Architects' Board as both a member and a commissioner.[2] In 1960, she was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects for "excellence in design and service to the profession". In 1967, the Los Angeles Times named her "Woman of the Year", the first architect to be chosen for this honor.[5] Riggs continued to practice architecture through 1980, and died in Montecito, California, in 1984.[4] The Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara has funded a yearly scholarship in Riggs' name, to be given to architectural students, with special consideration for women.[1]


Name City US State/Country Completed Other Information Image
Alexander, Harold B. medical building Santa Barbara California 1952
Alexander, Taylor house Rolling Hills California 1939
Allen, Harry B. house Sea Cliff Cove Santa Barbara California 1930
Allen, Harry B. house Sea Cliff Cove Cape May New Jersey 1968
Ames, Richard McCurdy house remodel and additions Santa Barbara California 1955
Andrews, William H. house San Ysidro Lane Santa Barbara California 1930
Armand, Jean Ravenel crematorium chapel plaque Santa Barbara California 1930
Bacon, G. Norman house and guest cottage remodel Hope Ranch Park Santa Barbara California 1954
Bank of America exterior design Santa Barbara California 1966
Barron, Harry shopping complex Hollywood California
Berkey, Peter III house ( 3505 Padaro Lane ) Carpinteria California 1961
Bogeaus, Benedict E. house remodel Beverly Hills California 1946
Bradley, William house and barn 3550 Calzado Ave. Santa Ynez California 1974
Brooks, Lenore house Williamsburg Lane Rolling Hills California 1939
Brooksbank, Percy A. house Folded Hills Ranch Gaviota California 1946
Burke, Margaret house remodel/apartment Palm Springs California 1939
Busby, Dr. and Mrs. William house Summerland California 1963
California State Highway Commission U.S. 101 Freeway Widening Plan Santa Barbara California 1954-58
Campbell, Mrs. Charles house Santa Ynez California 1963
Carpenter, Charles M. house Bel Air California 1948
Cate School library Carpinteria California 1964
Chace, Russell house 47227 W. Eldorado Dr. Palm Desert California 1964
Chadwick Seaside School house Rolling Hills California 1939
Cheney, Charles house addition Fisher's Island New York 1931
Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints church remodel San Pedro California 1940
Clark, Mrs. Alfred house San Francisco California 1955
Collier, Mrs. Gertrude A. stained glass window for crematorium Santa Barbara Cemetery Santa Barbara California 1930
Colville, Miss Frances house 6865 Del Playa Dr. Isla Vista California 1957
Comparte, Al J. guest house and house remodel 1369 Bobolink Pl. Los Angeles California 1946
Cooper, William H. house La Vina Ranco Lompoc California 1936
Crocker, Templeton house Pebble Beach California 1930
Cypress Point Golf Club house Pebble Beach California 1928-1930


  1. ^ a b "Lutah Maria Riggs". Archived from the original on 2013-02-23. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  2. ^ a b "Women In Architecture". Retrieved 2012-02-23.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ware, Susan; Radcliffe Institute (2005). Completing the Twentieth Century. Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. 5. Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01488-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Lutah Maria Riggs papers" (PDF). Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  5. ^ a b "ArchitectDB - Architects". Retrieved 2012-02-23.
  6. ^ Gebhard, Patricia (2005). George Washington Smith: Architect of the Spanish-Colonial Revival. Gibbs Smith. ISBN 1-58685-510-7.
  7. ^ "Vedanta Society of Southern California". Archived from the original on 2012-03-06. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
  • Gebhard, David (1992). Lutah Maria Riggs: a Woman in Architecture 1921–1980. Capra Press. ISBN 978-0-88496-352-3.

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