Lutah (Bhavnani, 2014): USA
Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy. Viewed at the SBIFF.
Lutah Maria Riggs was a consummate architect, responsible for the design of Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre. She attended SBCC and began her professional career under the direct tutelage of George Washington Smith.
George Washington Smith is a distinguished name in the world of architecture, most notable in the Montecito and Santa Barbara area. Smith’s work embraced the Spanish Colonial Revival style, which gives the town its unique Mediterranean look- white stucco walls with arches, and the traditional Spanish tile roof.
After graduating from Berkeley, Riggs moved back to Santa Barbara and joined Smith’s firm around 1920, thus becoming the first female architect of the town.
Spanish Colonial Revival was considered a Modernist movement – which is a modernized look at the past. The style has a less is more approach with the plain white walls, and deep set windows.
George Washington Smith and his wife opened their hearts and home to Lutah, making her their surrogate daughter. Smith and Riggs traveled and worked together extensively for the next ten years, until his death in 1930, in which she then opened a firm of her own.
Known as “California’s oldest [and] continuously operating theatre,” the Lobero was rebuilt and re-designed in 1922. Important elements that Riggs incorporated into the theatre were to give it a big city feel, but with an intimate setting. She had a keen sense for proportion and implemented the staggered seat design we are familiar with today.
True to California taste, Riggs’ designs can be summed up as simple and elegant, yet comfortable, with a wealth of natural lighting. “Labels bothered her,” so she shunned the female architect label, and although her female peers were few in California – Julia Morgan aside – nevertheless, she was a trail blazer in the field and would actually roll up her sleeves and get down and dirty with the builders.
Lutah sheds light on this modest architect of humble beginnings, who was responsible for contributing so much beauty to the town of Santa Barbara. The filmmaker (a UCSB professor), was actually granted access into the private homes of many of Riggs’ designs, with some breathtaking shots, as the camera catches natural light, streaming from the outdoors into hallways of the interior, or one such residence with two walls of sheer glass.
Some of Riggs’ public design elements may be studied at the shopping complex El Paseo, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden library, and National Historical Landmark (a former estate), the Casa del Herrero. This film is recommended to all who appreciate the history of architecture.