CDRC Confidential: Heritage


Thanksgiving and the holidays are an appreciation of heritage. Family, food, traditions defining community. Rancho Santa Fe’s Spanish Colonial heritage was celebrated by its lead planner, architect Lilian Rice, with a modern approach resulting in timeless design.

“She insisted on three things in her designs: restraint in decoration, high-quality craftsmanship and harmony between a home and its site,” said her biographer Diane Y. Welch. “She would not grade the land; if there was a boulder, she worked around it.”

The Protective Covenant (PC) embodies Rice’s design philosophy insisting “…structures shall conform to the following general requirements,” set forth in Par 157-160, type of architecture, materials, colors and roofs. Not suggestions, requirements. Rice established Latin-inspired architecture for the Rancho Santa Fe Association. Like Thanksgiving, where the meal has certain requirements of seasonal foods (barbecued hot dogs and watermelons aren’t traditional). Instead, restraint in decoration acknowledging our nation’s humble origins, high-quality ingredients presented in harmony with the setting, are appropriate. (Cornish game hen, brussel sprouts & craisins meets the specs when Thanksgiving is only for two.)

The Covenant reflects Rice’s appreciation of our natural topography stating in its Preamble the objective “of preserving…rare landscape features.” The CDRC’s recent Review of Regulations Meeting including Reg. 41.06 revealed the maximum depth of cut and fill of 10 vertical feet was not a number from the PC, but a number added to the Regulations towards the end of the last century when Houses on Steroids and McMansions were the rage. As discussed in our last column, builders are using this number like a bar for enlarging existing building pads. This conflicts with Rice’s design philosophy to respect existing land forms and the Covenant’s intent to preserve them. The manufactured number of 10 feet should be removed to leave the determination as originally set forth in PC Par. 46 that proposals “insure a uniform and reasonably high standard of artistic result and attractiveness” by preserving and respecting existing landscape features. Then, builders can propose grading based on their actual needs with the limitation being aesthetics, at the reasonable, not sole discretion of the CDRC.

The PC Preamble also calls for “restricting the height and bulk of buildings.” It is the scale of structures and overdevelopment of a site with lot line to lot line structures combined with international style of architecture glass walls that makes a hillside resemble an office park rather than a residential estate. (At our last CDRC Meeting, male architects were discussing glass lift and slides and whose project had the biggest, until I smiled asking them to stop.) Star and moonlight should be our predominant nightlight to preserve our rural ambiance and heritage of restraint in decoration, not hillsides of horizontal lumens.

As the year ends, I hope the Board will renew its commitment to the Covenant’s heritage through its CDRC by enforcing the dictates of Lilian Rice when approving new construction projects and in revising its Regulations. Contrary to a misguided approach, interpretation is not opinion-based, but clearly set forth in the Covenant. Paying mere lip service to the PC is insulting to Members. Below is a photo of timeless design by Lilian Rice and me wishing readers happy holidays celebrating their heritage in a timeless, tasteful manner, too.

La Flecha House, circa 1925, Architect Lilian Rice on stairs. (Images © RSFHS)