Family-owned and operated since 1940
The 1928 Cadillac — once elegant, now old — bounced and swayed over a dirt lane leading toward a stand of oaks in an otherwise open field. A perilously oversize homemade wooden box attached to the bumper contained the worldly goods of Edmond and Deborah Szekely, while they themselves were possessed of an improbable plan: within weeks they hoped to welcome their first guests in June, 1940, to an impromptu summer health camp in the coastal mountains of Baja California, Mexico, not far from San Diego, California.
Deborah, who was born in Brooklyn in 1922 and lived in Tahiti for five years as a child, was newly married to “the Professor.” Edmond was well known for his wide-ranging studies, writings and lectures in the 1930s. His views on philosophy and ancient religions, the nutritional value of just-picked fresh pesticide-free vegetables, exercise, and what we would call “ecology” today, were revolutionary for the times.
As the horrors of World War II engulfed the globe, the Professor — a Romanian citizen — had become a man without a country when his U.S.-issued papers expired. He was told he had to leave before June 1 or be returned to his country of origin, where his Jewish heritage was a death sentence.
And so they crossed the border south, lacking papers but emboldened by dreams. They found a scrap of land with an adobe storage shed to rent. It became their home. They stayed, and lived in the most primitive conditions. And thrived. Their temporary camp became more and more permanent: a haven for health-seekers from the U.S. and England.
Unquestionably, the beauty of the land helped seed their success: a fertile valley, shaded along its creek and river by oaks and sycamores, and guarded by Mt. Kuchumaa (sacred to the Kumeyaay tribe). Success was also buoyed by the Professor’s message during a time of global upheaval: live simply, respect the body’s inherent wisdom, and embrace a life in nature —beyond what he called the “stone colossus” of city life.
“The guests came because of the Professor; his charisma, his reputation, and to hear his lectures in person, held every day under a huge oak tree,” recalls Deborah.
Those guests who have been interviewed about the early days also said they returned because of Deborah, who embraced her role as everything from chief cook and proverbial bottle washer to general manager and even activities director— despite being only 18. In that first year they immediately planted a garden, then instructed guests to “bring their own tent” for $17.50 a week — if they helped out as “co-ops” with chores like working in the garden. “If you paid $35 you didn’t have to do anything,” recalls Deborah. Most guests chose the former. Rancho La Puerta was born.
Since the beginning our motto has been Siempre Mejor! — the Professor’s favorite greeting, delivered in his booming voice. “Always Better!” still guides us every day: Rancho La Puerta has been recognized around the world since the 1950s as the progenitor of the modern fitness resort and spa movement, and has been lauded by every major travel awards program.