Del Mar developer's accomplished career spans more than half a century

James Watkins
James Watkins

By Arthur Lightbourn

Contributor

“Don’t you ever smile?”

Veteran developer Jim Watkins credits those few words with changing his life.

He was a freshman in high school at the time, transplanted into a town he didn’t like, and surrounded by students he couldn’t befriend.

“I was always getting into fights,” he recalls.

Nothing like the city he had moved from, Alhambra, California, in Los Angeles County, where he was a top dog among his buddies.

But, in this farm town of Visalia in the San Joaquin Valley with its dry, hot 100-degree-plus summers and tule foggy winters, he was the unhappy new kid on the block.

His entrepreneurial father had bought a gasoline bulk plant in Visalia.

So when a girl at school commented on his grumpy behavior, he didn’t like that at all, but it got him thinking.

“I went back home and I thought, ‘I’ve been a complete ass for six months. It’s gotten me nowhere. I might as well accept this is my fate. I’m going to have to live in this dump.’

“I returned to school the next day and started smiling. That weekend,” he remembers, “I got invited to a party. I wouldn’t trade those next four years in high school for any other time in my entire life.

“Attitude, attitude, attitude,” he concluded. “Everything is attitude.”

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Over the past five decades, Watkins built more than 1,000 homes, 50 apartment complexes, plus numerous hotels, including the L’Auberge Del Mar (above), commercial properties and luxury timeshares.

Watkins is the founder and president of Winners Circle Resorts International, Inc., a company headquartered in Del Mar that specializes in the development, sales, marketing and management of vacation timeshares.

Over the past five decades, he built more than 1,000 homes, 50 apartment complexes, plus numerous hotels, including the L’Auberge Del Mar, commercial properties and luxury timeshare resorts.

He is a past president of the Del Mar Chamber of Commerce (1973, 1974), past president of the Del Mar Rotary Club (1980), recipient of the Del Mar Person of the Year Award (1990); and, as an avid supporter of community youth services, a 12-year YMCA board member, a 16-year board member of the Boys and Girls Club, and recipient of the Boys and Girls Club Living Legend Award in 2006.

We interviewed Watkins recently at the Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort and Hotel, one of Watkins’ original properties where he was in the process of completing $4 million in building renovations and new landscaping to coincide with its Inn’s 25th anniversary.

When he bought the Inn property 30 years ago, it consisted of several run-down cottages, a wedding chapel, and a vacant residence. It was zoned for apartments and commercial. And what Watkins was developing at the time were vacation timeshares.

Using his considerable powers of persuasion, he received approval from the city and coastal commission to transform the ocean property into a combination 62-room hotel flanked by 150 vacation timeshare apartments.

Looking around his renovated Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort and Hotel, Watkins said: “When I see places like this which I created 30 years ago, when I see all the people having a good time, that’s what it’s all about.”

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