Organic farming revitalizes the restorative, 58-year-old spa of the Hollywood stars

It was the place for Hollywood to recede, refresh, and renew. Or more accurately, to drop out, dry out, and lose those stubborn last 10 pounds before the next project.

Burt Lancaster, Bob Cummings, and Johnny Weissmuller went on hikes here.

Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Kim Novak, Barbra Streisand, and a thousand lesser lights hid out here.

The place was the Golden Door, a 300-acre oasis in the desert hills of San Marcos, California, less than an hour north of San Diego.

In 1959, Deborah Szekely and her husband, Edmund, a famous philologist and linguist, opened a mountain-lodge-meets-Japanese-tea-garden spa here, promising restoration and sanctuary.

When she sold it in 2005, the Golden Door went through a series of owners whose idea of revitalizing profits was based on cost-cutting. Not surprisingly, it went into decline…ironically, just as the day spa fad was talking off in the U.S.

Golden Door’s savior was an apostle: Joanne Conway, the wife of Carlyle Group LP co-founder and co-CEO Bill Conway Jr., who purchased the property and its 40 guest rooms for $24.8 million in 2012.

Since then, Conway, who had been a client 22 times over the years, has been on a mission to return the spa to its rightful place.

Van Ness spent $15 million, doubling the spa’s grounds, opening a boutique, and expanding its farm: The majority of the food that ends up on spa-goers’ plates is cultivated on-site.

There are 45 varieties of vegetables (Golden Door just put in 10,000 tomato plants), honey from beehives, and eggs from a chicken coop. Van Ness says that by 2027, farming could account for 5 percent of total revenue.

Now, occupancy, which was 55 percent in the first quarter of 2013, has hit 71 percent in the first quarter of 2017. And new generation of A-listers, such as Amy Schumer, Rooney Mara, Lauren Conrad, and Olivia Wilde, has discovered the place.

Today, the facilities include:

  • 600 acres of native hills, meadows, Japanese gardens, and citrus groves;
  • 12 mountain or meadow hikes of varying challenge on 25 miles of private trails;
  • 7 state of the art gyms;
  • 2 swimming pools;
  • Watsu Water Therapy pool;
  • 2 labyrinths;
  • A lighted tennis court;
  • A bathhouse with Jacuzzi, steam-room and sauna, and 9 skincare and body care treatment rooms; and
  • 5 acres of bio-intensive gardens.

Regarding their approach to restoring and preserving the landscape, here’s what they say on their website: “Our dedication to protecting our land allows Golden Door to offer an abundance of outdoor activities for our guests to enjoy.

As our groves grow, our orchards flower and our botanicals bloom, each day becomes a new experience of the great outdoors, bringing us closer to nature and to our own inner selves. The peacefulness of the experience offers enlightenment and calm.

Preservation and invention will help steward our land for future generations. We have developed new water sources to feed our groves, prepare our soil with natural nutrient sources and cultivate our trees for optimal health.

We strive to create a diversified, balanced agricultural ecosystem that generates health and sustainably promotes land fertility.

The harmonization of the land, sun and water infuses the food we raise with vital nutrients. Our Biointensive farming methods ensure that the food we serve our guests is healthy, clean and natural…just as it was intended.

Above all the decadence and luxury of the Golden Door, there is one thing that’s even more impressive about this storied resort. The fact that all profits are donated to charity. As a show of support to those involved in making the world a more loving, more humane and more peaceful place, Golden Door has pledged 100% of net profits to select charities in support of their missions. (Of course, anyone familiar with the Hollywood film studios and their notoriously sleazy contracts knows there’s no such thing as a “net profit”.)

But bravo anyway to Joanne Conway and her path towards making the world a better place. Her resort helps us all become better people… healthier and hopeful for the future.

All photos courtesy of Golden Door.

See full Bloomberg Businessweek article by Michael Callahan (paywall).

See full Forbes article by Jim Dobson.

See Golden Door website.

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