Statue of Lilian Rice planned for Rancho Santa Fe village

Lilian Rice, seated, in the Rancho Santa Fe village in the 1920's.

This year the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society plans to erect a monument to one of California’s first female architects, the woman who designed the Rancho Santa Fe village and nearly 100 structures almost 100 years ago. A statue of architect Lilian Rice is planned to have a new permanent home in the north park of the village green, at the heart of the civic center she envisioned back in the 1920s.

Eleven of her buildings in Rancho Santa Fe are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the La Flecha House, the current home of the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society.

“We’re very excited about this project,” said Peggy Brooks, vice president of the historical society board.

The commemorative statue has been made possible by a donation from Rancho Santa Fe resident Jenny Freeborn, who has been trying to find a way to honor Rice for the last 30 years.

A native of central Alabama, Freeborn fell in love with Rancho Santa Fe the first time she saw it in the late 1970s, coming to the village for lunch one day while she was working for Pan Am. She and her husband decided to move their family to the community in 1980.

“It has been a magical place for us all. I just loved it,” Freeborn said. “Rancho Santa Fe has given me and my family so much and I think in this life, it’s important that people think of something larger than yourself. I wanted to give back to Rancho Santa Fe.”

“I think we’ve needed (the statue) for a long time and I’m thrilled with the whole project,” Freeborn said.

Society board member Roger Lindland helped find a local artist for the statue’s design. Nina de Burgh, a Fairbanks Ranch sculptor, was tapped to bring Lilian to life.

de Burgh’s portfolio includes a statue of Juliet Gordon Low, the founder of The Girl Scouts, in Savannah, Georgia. Low was de Burgh’s great-great aunt.

There has been some debate about where to place the statue in the village. Initially the Historical Society preferred a location in the median on Paseo Delicias, having Lilian looking down the boulevard but there were concerns about the close proximity to the road.

“We heard that the north park might be more accessible to people, out of the way of traffic and more visible,” said John Vreeburg, president of the historical society.

The Rancho Santa Fe Association trails and recreation committee approved the green but preferred a location between the Association office and the library. The Art Jury reviewed the statue in November and agreed to the north park location but will reserve its approval until the final rendering is complete.

The Association board of directors approved of the park location at its December meeting in a 6-1 vote with Sharon Ruhnau opposed. Ruhnau said the Art Jury only looked at the park placement and wanted to ensure that the committee had an opportunity to consider all possible locations.

Brooks wants to keep the look of the statue a surprise, although preliminary renderings have been shown at Association meetings. The bronze statue will be about 7 feet tall with an elevated base—Lilian will either be sitting or possibly leaning against a tree. There will be a separate rock with a monument detailing her contributions to the community.

The hope is for the statue to be unveiled at Rancho Days in September, when the historical society plans to be recognizing the 1920s as Rancho Santa Fe nears its centennial celebration—Rice designed the civic center of Rancho Santa Fe for the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company between 1923 and 1928.

“We want to do a big celebration for the anniversary of the Rancho Santa Fe and the community and we are excited to have Lilian Rice recognized,” Vreeburg said.