Lauding Lutah

By Richard Mineards   |   November 30, 2021
Melinda Gandara, Marc Appleton, Rose Thomas, Anthony Grumbine, and Deming Isaacson (Photo by Priscilla)

After premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2014, the documentary Lutah – A Passion For Architecture: A Life In Design aired at the Lobero, fittingly a building she conceived, to raise funds for a George Washington Smith pavilion restoration project at Lotusland, the 37-acre Montecito botanical garden owned by opera star Ganna Walska between 1941 and 1984, which it has been discovered she also worked on.

Lutah Maria Riggs, who died in 1984, was a protégé of famed Santa Barbara architect Smith and designed some of our area’s most iconic homes and buildings, including the Vedanta Temple, while blazing a trail for women.

Produced by Montecito animal activist Gretchen Lieff and Leslie Sweem Bhutani, the 68-minute film was directed by Kum-Kum Bhavnani. It has been screened at more than 60 film festivals since its premiere in our Eden by the Beach, including Palm Springs, Lisbon, Mexico City, and Stockholm.

The entertaining event also included a panel discussion with architects Marc Appleton, Anthony Grumbine, and Deming Isaacson, as well as Lutah Maria Riggs Society historian Melinda Gandara, and moderated by Rose Thomas, a Lotusland research associate.

Among the guests turning out for the reception and screening were Miles Hartfeld, Merryl Brown, Thomasine Richards, Crystal Wyatt, Robert Adams, Ganna Walska’s niece Hania Tallmadge, and Caroline Thompson.

Lutah Maria Riggs (Photo by Priscilla)
Gretchen Lieff, Rebecca Anderson, and Lesley Cunningham (Photo by Priscilla)

Sign of Things to Come?

While Beanie Baby billionaire Ty Warner’s luxury 206-room Santa Barbara hostelry, the Biltmore, would seem to be closed indefinitely, his other trophy hotel, the 368-room Four Seasons in Manhattan is planning to return to business in the spring.

Preparations are underway to reopen after the virus lockdown and subsequent renovation shut the iconic I.M. Pei-designed Upper Eastside property in March 2020, according to one of the major union leaders involved with the hotel’s staff.

But the reopening plans face a major stumbling block, according to the New York Post, as Warner, 77, remains in a long simmering fight with the owners of the Four Seasons name, which manages the 682-foot high, 52-story tower, the second tallest hotel in New York City.

Warner contends the fees he pays to Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts should be adjusted based on the property’s profitability, says the Post. However, the Toronto-based company, which is majority owned by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, through his Cascade Investment company, and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who manages more than 100 high-end hotels around the world, disagrees.

Rich Maroko, president of the New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council Union, says signs do indeed point to the Big Apple hotel reopening, although he concedes he’s aware of the “conflict between ownership and management.” Management has told him the property would open this spring.

The 28-year-old hotel was bought by Warner in 1999 and contains the 4,300-square-foot Ty Warner penthouse, which has 25-foot-high bay windows, four cantilevered balconies, a rare Chinese onyx bathtub, a Zen room, and even a Bosendorfer grand piano. It sells for $60,000 a night, while rooms on lower floors are around $1,000 a night.

Stay tuned…

Daddy Not So Dearest

Meghan Markle’s father, Thomas, 77, has called for his daughter to be stripped of her Duchess of Sussex title after she “insulted” the British Royal Family with her much derided appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ TV talk show.

He says he was left feeling “embarrassed” watching his 40-year-old daughter in her first major interview since her notorious Oprah Winfrey tell-all alongside Prince Harry.

Thomas, a retired Hollywood lighting director living in Mexico, dubbed the appearance “a stupid stunt” and said it insulted the Queen, the Royal Family, and the British people.

During the interview Markle left a group of street vendors open-mouthed by dancing and singing in front of them and then referring to herself as “mommy” in a cringeworthy on-the-street prank during the Burbank-based show while taking orders from Ellen, a Montecito neighbor, on a hidden earpiece.

The calls for the tony twosome to be stripped of their titles are getting louder. Watch this space.


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