"I am thinking about becoming the Duke of Jacumba,” Dave Landman jokes. We are sitting in the dining room at his DeAnza Springs Nudist Resort, a property in Jacumba that Landman has owned for 15 years. Through the window an elderly couple can be seen sunbathing near the pool. The man is wearing a straw hat and nothing else. The woman is completely nude. Landman is wearing pants.
DeAnza does not look like a resort. Dozens of mobile homes, oversized RVs, a modest motel, and campsites line the property. A playground with swings and a slide sits near an outdoor pool. There is a sand volleyball pit and a couple of dusty tennis courts. The largest building is a community center that houses the Come-As-You-Are Bar and the Cactus Cafe. The resort looks like a KOA campground.
Before becoming the owner of the resort, Landman was the vice president of a major mortgage company whose name he would rather not disclose.
“I bought DeAnza to be a semiretirement thing. My family thought we were nuts. We built this resort from zero to one of the top-ten nudist resorts in the United States. You’ll never find nicer people than nudists. It’s hard to be an asshole when you don’t have any clothes on. You have nothing to hide behind.”
On March 8, Landman became the owner of 29 additional parcels of land in Jacumba. He now owns roughly 750 acres of residential, commercial, and vacant land in the struggling East County town whose population in the 2010 census was 561 people.
“I wasn’t planning on owning a town. Not at this stage of my life. I’m 65 years old,” Landman says. “Our goal is to make Jacumba a tourist destination again. So far, we are having fun with it.”
Landman is confident that he will have the same success with his new investment that he has had with the nudist resort. He has already begun renovations on one of his newly acquired properties, the Jacumba Hot Springs Resort. After gutting the hotel’s rooms and restaurant, Landman will reopen it this summer.
When asked if he plans to build another nudist resort in Jacumba, Landman says, “Our friends in the nudist community want us to turn Jacumba into a naked town. That’s not going to happen. We are toying with the idea of making one pool at the hotel a European-style topless one. That would be the extent of it for now.”
Most of Landman’s newly acquired land sits off Old Highway 80 in downtown Jacumba. Landman owns the majority of the retail spaces. Nearly all are boarded up. To the south, a border fence separates Jacumba from La Rumorosa, Mexico.
In the 1930s, the town was a tourist destination, thanks to its hot mineral pools. Back then, celebrities vacationed here. Rubble remains from a hotel built in the 1920s that was burned in a fire in 1983. Across the road stands the burnt-out remains of its bathhouse. At some point, Landman wants to open up some businesses in town and rebuild the old hotel and bathhouse.
“It will take years to complete all of it. Our first goal is to get the spa opened. It’s the only source of revenue. We are doing this on our own funds. Nothing is borrowed. I plan to have the spa open by June 1, ” Landman tells me.
If you ask Howard Cook, treasurer of the Jacumba Revitalization Committee, how Landman ended up owning a large portion of Jacumba, he will tell you it’s thanks to him.
“Sometimes Howard thinks this is his town. He’s a bit of a busybody,” Landman says laughing.
A year ago, Cook and his wife Danielle moved from Huntington Beach into their Spanish-style home in downtown Jacumba. They fell in love with the town after spending time at Landman’s nudist resort.
Cook admits that he doesn’t like living in a town that is going downhill.
Across the street from Cook’s house is a ten-acre lake. A nesting ground for the tricolored blackbird, the lake once attracted birdwatchers from all over California. When Cook moved in last year, the lake was dry. He made it his mission to get it refilled. In the process, he learned that the lake and 28 other pieces of property, all in bad shape, belonged to one group of investors. They hadn’t made a payment on the promissory note in years. He contacted Henry Lazare, the man who owned the note. Lazare was anxious to sell.
Cook contacted several wealthy business owners about buying the promissory note. Four members of the Jacumba Revitalization Committee drove out to the resort to talk to Landman, who a few months later purchased the promissory note from Lazare. Landman obtained all 29 parcels by foreclosing on the land.
“It was in the millions,” he says of the note’s purchase price. “For legal reasons, I can’t disclose the amount I paid at this time.”
Cook says, “The original note was $850,000. Landman bought it at a discounted rate. I don’t know how much he spent. I don’t want to know. He had to pay back taxes that previous owners were delinquent on. Dave is a businessman first and then a nudist.”
Landman plans to model Jacumba after Taos, New Mexico, and Palm Springs. He will spend another seven figures to renovate the town.
“We are tossing around renaming the town Jacumba Hot Springs. We want to have art festivals, galleries downtown, maybe even open a winery. I have a slogan already: “Jacumba, the new ‘in’ place to unwind.” When people come to Jacumba, it will be a staycation. If they stop by DeAnza, that’ll be a na-cation.” Landman chuckles over his play on the word “naked.”
Residents are optimistic about Jacumba’s future with Landman in charge. They are ready for change. Even the town’s Baptist pastor, Craig Hodson, says, “I think that it’s a good thing for Jacumba. It’ll provide jobs.”
At the deli, one of the two businesses open downtown, a woman who asks to remain nameless says, “It’s a little odd that a nudist owns Jacumba, but he has done well with DeAnza. I am sure he’ll do the same in town.”
Outside the deli, Felix Bachmeier Jr. gestures toward the paint-chipped, boarded-up buildings around us, “This is a ghost town right now. We need Dave to succeed. We know he can do it.”
(Revised on June 1, 2012)