Out On The Edge Of Everything

New owners celebrate the grand re opening of the revitalized jacumba hot springs hotel

Nearly a century after its golden days as a Hollywood getaway, the desert town of Jacumba Hot Springs is ready to make some new history.

Jeff Osborne looked out at the crowd gathered in the desert to hear him speak on a sun-splashed spring day, and made a remarkable statement: “I will spend the rest of my life devoted to this town and restoration.” All the evidence suggests he means it. Tiny Jacumba Hot Springs (population 541), 71 miles east of San Diego, is undergoing a slow but steady transformation as Jeff and his business partners Melissa Strukel and Corbin Winters unfailingly invest their time, money, and heart in the belief that there is something magical, and eventually profitable, in this historic old town.

A bustling tourist destination in the 1920s, Jacumba was home to more than five thousand residents. On its main street were seven gas stations, residential apartments, lodging for weary motorists, and a hotel and bath house with water piped in directly from the town’s artesian well. In its healing waters, the stars of radio and film are said to have found blessed retreat.

But it all unraveled as Interstate 8 passed by to the north and visitors favored other resorts like Palm Springs. The bath house was destroyed by fire and the old luxury hotel, the centerpiece of the town, burned to the ground in 1983.

Over more recent years, a succession of dreamers and entrepreneurs have imagined what Jacumba might become, but its weary downtown never changed much. The burned-out ruins of the town’s glory days remain even yet.

Things do feel different now. Jacumba’s new owners are sprucing up abandoned storefronts adjacent to a new and revitalized hotel and spa that is strikingly elegant and has become the social center of town. The once reedy and overgrown Lake Jacumba is clear and clean and inviting.

Beyond that, Jacumba’s new owners see everything in a different light. To them, the burned-out shell of the old bath house is a mood venue for frequent candlelit concerts. The town is windy, dusty, hot… and beautiful. They look at its very harsh remoteness with real affection. “We are out on the edge of everything. The edge of a county, the edge of the Sonoran Desert, and the edge of a mountain range,” Melissa Strukel told the crowd.

She and her partners have made one thing clear. They are in this for reasons beyond the financial. They have made this place their home. “I am so grateful to be able to raise my son here,” Corbin Winters shared. The crowd applauded. The wind blew a little dust past the old buildings downtown. And at last, Jacumba Hot Springs felt new again.

Here is an invitation to join us for a look at the history and future of this often-overlooked desert resort in San Diego County. It will be part of Ken Kramer’s About San Diego airing Thursday, June 13 at 8:00 PM on KPBS-TV with a repeat on Sunday June 16 at 4:00.

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Esteban Villanueva