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2013 MIRACLE AT THE BORDER: THE JACUMBA INN RISES AGAIN!
The Jacumba Inn and Spa Reopened June 2013.
A friendly waitress brings your order in the cafe
The central pool fed by natural (sulfer) spring.
The bar attracts many from the surrounding towns.
a sample of one of the rooms
By Gary Mussell,
Southern California Naturist Association (SCNA)
In August 2006, I published a review of the Jacumba Inn and Spa describing it as one of the most disgusting places to stay overnight in California.
Since then, much has happened to the property and so the purpose of this article is to rescind my previous remarks and proclaim that the new owners have done a magnificent job renovating the place. I can now recommend the Spa to anyone who visits the area and wants to know what things were like in the 1930s, when Jacumba was a getaway for Hollywood stars and industrial moguls.
This miracle at the border, 70 miles east of San Diego, was accomplished almost by accident by one man, Dave Landman, who had to buy practically the entire town to save it.
When I last visited the 24-room Inn, it was being run by an unnamed “firm out of Chicago” and managed by Alfred, a most disagreeable old Austrian whose thickly-accented fancy words never matched his deeds. The pools and course way sidewalks were cracked and uneven, the roof was missing tile, the rooms had little water pressure, and the central courtyard reeked a most unpleasant odor.
To top everything a mile from the Inn was an 8-acre organic farm which attracted every eye gnat and fly from Mexico to the town. The international border, by the way, is only a few hundred yards to the south and “The Fence” imposes its ominous presence on the entire landscape. While local residents tell me the barrier has stopped all but a few desperate souls from attempting to cross into the United States in the middle of the night, the eye gnats and flies had no such restriction and they flew to Jacumba (along with all their relatives) with impunity.
If it weren’t for the two gas stations at the Jacumba off ramp, it is doubtful most Interstate 8 commuters travelling between San Diego and El Centro would even know the town existed.
In the 2000 census, Jacumba was down to just 561 residents, about 200 families, living in homes which when viewed from the street could politely be described as in need of an upgrade. Most of the remaining town folk are retired, or would be novelists, or artists, or jewelry-makers. The main drag – old California Highway 80 – has a post office, a county library, and a market but not much else. Most of the storefronts are closed. Driving through the town, the movie “The Last Picture Show” would flash through your mind, with perhaps the forlorn theme from “Fargo” playing in the background.
Those who do work scratch out a living from their government pensions or by working at an Indian casino 20 miles to the west, A few locals work at Landman’s nudist resort as cooks or housekeepers. Those I interviewed for this article told me they remain living in the town because they are attracted to the mineral waters of the Spa and the fact the place is definitely slow-paced and off the beaten track. One can also feel a deep sense of friendship and caring about each other, as many have lived here for well over a decade, some even for generations. But these locals also knew something had to be done to save the town, and so they turned to Landman, the one successful businessman still in the area.
What is Landman’s business? He runs a 220-acre nudist resort across Interstate 8 where it skirts along the north edge of the town. In 1977 he bought an abandoned RV Park there in 1997, renamed it De Anza Springs Nudist Resort, and turned it into one of the top ten nudist resorts in the country. He is the town’s biggest (practically its only) employer. While the locals had initially been wary of his enterprise, Landman’s success and professional good nature soon won over his skeptics.
CALLING IN THE PROMISSORY NOTE
The locals approached Landman about buying out the Jacumba Inn and restoring it so that the town would have a second source of income and employment, with the hope the rest of the town then might spring back to life. After doing a little research, Landman later found out Alfred’s firm had taken out a very large promissory note on the property from the son of the town’s original land owner, Henry Lazare. The note was now several years in arrears but Lazare, fearing his beloved town would totally disappear, was reluctant to call it in. Landman had no such qualms. He bought the note from Lazare and immediately notified the Chicago owners, who then defaulted.
Locals tell me that Alfred then went a little crazy when told he had to vacate, yelling and screaming, allegedly cutting the water pumps, and bringing in a couple of huge vans to gut the place: beds, televisions, water heaters, air conditioners, anything that wasn’t cemented down. Landman, in retrospect, thought Alfred did him a favor because he was going to have to hire company to toss it all away anyway.
But Dave also got another surprise. It seems the promissory note covered more than just the Jacumba Inn; it also covered 28 other properties nearby. Landman was now the owner of about 80% of the town! One of the first things he did was to get the county to change the name of the town from Jacumba to Jacumba Hot Springs, to make it more appealing to tourists. “I think the lifeblood of the community is the mineral water,” he told the San Diego Union Tribune in an April, 2013 story they did on the change in the town’s fortune.
Meanwhile, Landman discovered among his properties was the location of a drained 7-acre lake that had been used for years for community swimming, boating and fishing. It seems the previous owners had cut the line from the mineral hot springs that fed the lake. Dave had the lines repaired and Lake Jacumba is now scheduled for a grand-reopening before the end of 2013. It is hoped this will prompt the return of the migratory birds that used to use Jacumba as a rest stop on their spring and fall treks.
The new owner also began making plans to rebuild the Inn, but many of the locals told me they suspected Alfred continued to make things difficult with the County inspectors after he was gone, telling them the plumbing and roof were in terrible shape, and it seems that terrible odor in the courtyard was the result of a break in the sewage line that ran underneath. What started as a six-month renovation took almost two years and nearly a million dollars.
THE GRAND RE-OPENING
The new Jacumba Inn and Spa had its grand re-opening on June 28, 2013, on a day when the temperature was 114 degrees. Despite the heat, the grounds were packed with people
The dining room and bar have new floor tile and new décor distinctly American yet paying homage to the Mexican heritage of the region. A standard breakfast of bacon and eggs, pancakes, or an omelet will run you $5 to $7 depending on how fancy you want it. Dinners range from $10 to $20, and the specials depend on who the cook is that night. During the first month, Dave had to replace to head chefs who did not live up to their resumes. As a result, the menu remains in flux but Landman says “it’s getting there.” “I don’t want anyone buying food I wouldn’t eat myself,” he told me. I need to acknowledge the excellent service provided by our waitresses, Lacy (her husband is the main cook at the DeAnza resort), Amanda, and Jane, who alternated days during our visit. They knew the menu, were friendly, and enthusiastic about all the changes. In their matching Inn polo shirts, they present a new, professional image that wasn’t there before. Locals are once again starting to make breakfast at the Inn a daily routine. At night, the refurbished bar attracts a decent-sized crowd also, and they have started a popular Karaoke Night.
The courtyard patios that surround the central mineral pool is nicely lit at night for safety, with new fixtures and new paint. The walkways still a little uneven in a few spots but it is far better than my 2005 visit, when at night it was nearly impossible to not trip in the dark going to your room.
The second pool in the secluded corner apparently just reopened the week before I got there, with new cement and new tile. The patio tables, chairs, and colorful umbrellas look straight out of the box (which they probably were.) The Jacuzzi is in an odd place, on the opposite side of the grounds behind the bar. Dave said he might move it in the future so that it is more convenient to the guests.
The rooms are literally rebuilt with new plumbing (great water pressure!), sinks, bedding and curtains. Each room has Direct TV service and a flat screen television mounted on the wall. The rooms have no telephones (“everyone carries cell phones these days”), but WiFi service is available for laptops and iPads. The only thing in the rooms that seemed a bit odd was there were no bathroom doors. “That was an oversight,” admits Landman. “We were so busy with the redesign and infrastructure nobody noticed we forgot to include the doors.” He says they are coming soon.
The Inn remains a work in progress. While I was there they were replacing the main entrance doors. The dirt parking lot will get a coat of asphalt soon, and the exterior landscaping and tree stumps will also be transformed by spring.
Landman’s future plans include building an adjoining Day Spa and perhaps offering mineral mud treatments. A vacant lot near the lake looks like a perfect future RV park, he said. Landman hopes also to attract more businesses to the main street, with stores selling Indian jewelry, an art gallery, a variety store, a medical center, a 3-par golf course, plus another restaurant or two.
There is also some thought being given to opening a railroad museum, since there are so many abandoned cars nearby, left over from fifty years ago before the Interstate was built when there was Basalt mining in the area and a daily train carried San Diego passengers to Arizona and back.
But he won’t be building those himself. “The Jacumba Inn was quite enough for me. If we did our job right, the others will come.”
In April 2013,The San Diego Tribune published a story about Landman’s purchase and the town’s renovation. In it, the reports writes that the people in town have started calling Landman the Duke of Jacumba,” a name he is uncomfortable with but understands.” He is getting used to all the waving from people as he drives his big Chevy Avalanche through this re-energized border town he has brought back from the brink.
Click image to enlarge map
Click image to enlarge map
HOW TO GET TO THE JACUMBA INN AND SPA:
• From San Diego, drive Interstate 8 about an hour to the east.
• When you pass the Golden Acorn Casino and all the windmills, you are about 15 minutes away.
• At the exit, turn right, then an immediate left past the gas stations.
• Two miles down the road is Old Highway 80. Turn right.
• The spa is about a mile on your right.
For reservations and additional information, contact:
Jacumba Hot Springs and Resort
44500 Old Highway 80
Jacumba CA 91934
Phone: (619) 766-4333