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Riggs, Lutah Maria, 1896-1984



  • Existence: 1896 - 1984

Architect: Lutah Maria Riggs

When Riggs moved to Santa Barbara, she 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. She travelled with the Smith family on their architectural study trips to Mexico in 1922, and Europe in 1924. Also in 1924, Riggs was made partner in the firm, and given the title of chief draftswoman. 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.

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. 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.

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.

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. 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. Riggs continued to practice architecture through 1980, and died in Montecito, California in 1984. 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.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Jackson (Beverley) Photograph Collection

Identifier: AR-2020-010

The Beverley Jackson Photograph Collection contains photographs of well-known people including actors, artists, architects, athletes, authors, chefs, dancers, musicians, talk show hosts, royalty, and philanthropists. These black and white enlargements were taken by Santa Barbara News-Press society writer Beverley Jackson and illustrate the events chronicled in her "By The Way" newspaper columns.

Dates: 1968 - 2020

Lutah documentary

 Unprocessed Material
Identifier: 2022-188
Dates: Publication: 2014
Found in: Gledhill Library

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden plans

 Unprocessed Material — Folder: CC-3
Identifier: 2005-054
Dates: 1942 - 1943
Found in: Gledhill Library