San Ysidro Ranch Rises from Mud

Historic Montecito Resort Starts Serving Food, Will Open Cottages in March

San Ysidro Ranch has made great headway in restoration and repairs from the 1/9 Debris Flow but still has work to go before opening

Paul Wellman

San Ysidro Ranch has made great headway in restoration and repairs from the 1/9 Debris Flow but still has work to go before opening

Less than a year after losing half of the property to the 1/9 Debris Flow, San Ysidro Ranch is slowly opening its doors to business again. The historic resort, which was also nearly lost in the Thomas Fire, is serving a series of holiday brunches, and reservation-only dinner service will start in mid-January at the Stonehouse and Plow & Angel restaurants. Overnight accommodations should be mostly open by March 2019, with the final three cottages ready to go in August.

“For people in Montecito, this means a lot,” said facilities director David Soberano during a walk around the property on Tuesday. “It took three months just to dig out from the mud.”

Of the property’s 41 cottages, 21 were damaged, including three that were totally destroyed. The historic adobe had mud four feet up the walls, but experts from Chicago were called in to save it. Luckily, a large boulder stopped just short of the front door, and will be the site of a remembrance plaque.

The ranch hired Santa Barbara-based general contractor John Lambe Construction, who has engaged about 20 different subcontractors to carry out the reconstruction. There are nearly 120 workers on the ranch each day, served by rows of picnic benches and about a dozen outhouses.

“For us, the county has been great, and not just them, but Edison, the Gas Company, everyone that’s been involved has been super helpful,” said Soberano. “We’ve had no issues, from insurance aspect to building inspection.” The landscaping alone may be the largest contract — oak trees of a certain maturity aren’t cheap — and Soberano estimates the total cost will be in the tens of millions of dollars by the end. “Fortunately for us, it’s all covered under insurance,” he said.

That includes the three rebuilt cottages, which had to be moved away from San Ysidro Creek. Once a small waterway, the mudslide turned it into a deep gorge. “To me it looks like the Grand Canyon,” said Soberano. The carved-out creek also opened the treeline, and now the Stonehouse patio offers views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands where once was only treetops.

Monday night was the property’s first large event: owner Ty Warner’s annual Christmas party for 150 people. “It went off without a hitch,” said Soberano. Everyone was a bit nervous about the affair, but Warner has never wavered in his dedication to the rebuilding of San Ysidro Ranch, who continued to pay some employees even while it was closed. “From day one, we was committed to this place, to make it even better than it was before,” said Soberano. “That’s the truth.”