How L’Auberge Del Mar was built, part I

Some hotels are built to take advantage of a lucrative opportunity, or because a hotel chain needs another property between two cities on the interstate. But L’Auberge, Del Mar’s AAA Four-Diamond resort, was built because of a dream.

The dreamer was Jim Watkins, a longtime Del Mar resident.

“I remember the old Del Mar Hotel from when I was a kid and how it was the focus for the community, but by the time I got here in 1966, the hotel was going to be torn down and it remained a vacant lot for about 20 years,” Watkins recalled. “There were all sorts of attempts to do something with it, all of which had failed. At that point I was doing pretty well, so I said this is important to me, and I think it’s important to the community to have a place where the entire community can get together. I wanted to build a great hotel for my hometown.”

Early in his development planning, Watkins found that his dream of bringing the community together under the roof of his new hotel was not universally shared.

“Del Mar in the early eighties was very divided,” Watkins said. “There were people for growth and people for no growth and the only place they got together was at City Hall to fight, and I decided I could make this into a community gathering spot where we could all get together and enjoy life and that was my motivation.”

David Winkler and Ivan Gayler bought the Del Mar Plaza property across the street in 1983, about the same time that Watkins was trying to get his new hotel off the ground.

“At the time Mission West held a note and deed of trust against the vacant Del Mar Hotel lot,” Winkler said. “Mission West proposed a massive project that would have been one story taller than L’Auberge and twice as big.”

Even Winkler had concerns about the size of the proposed hotel. “While we were planning our project we had concerns about the hotel project, because it was so massive and tall that it would have obliterated all the views from the Del Mar Plaza,” he remembered.

“So the Mission West proposal went down in flames, and Jim Watkins put a group together to buy the property from Mission West.”

Editor’s note: This article, written by Richard Arcello, is reprinted from the “Del Mar Picture Book,” published by Joe Jelley. Contact him at