San Felipe Hotel Magnate and Property Developer Dies

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Armando Ramos Arevalo 1944-2016

Armando Ramos Arevalo was born in 1944 in Veracruz Mexico, the son of Armando Ramos Morales, a Navy engineer, and Ofelia Arevalo Gardoqui. He studied civil engineering at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and graduated in 1968 in the midst of the complex student movement prior to the ‘68 Olympics held in Mexico City. The Mexican army had to literally clear the way for him to go into the dissertation room and present his thesis on how to build and manage hydraulic dams.

Armando was thrust into planning and managing the family affairs at the age of 21 when his father passed away and left him in charge, with his mother, of 4 younger brothers. He was offered his father’s job at a civil engineering firm to help him support the family and he quickly realized that in order to fulfill his dreams as an entrepreneur, he would have to start his own business. He often told the story about how he wanted to buy a Ford Mustang, but his salary was far from adequate, so he quit the firm and started a venture with childhood friends Enrique Vaca and Mario Lemus doing jobs such as exterior painting and small remodels. The partnership and friendships flourished and lasted well over 50 years.

Constructora Kapha was born, and the young engineers got contracting jobs in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, building bridges, dams, roads, infrastructure, and several housing projects. Ten years later, Kapha had a very large stock of machinery and more than 3,000 employees plus a small jet plane. Times were not without excitement and peril as one day that same jet crashed at the Mexico City Airport shortly after take-off. The three partners walked away from the wreckage without a scratch.

As the Mexican economy turned around in 1986, the large construction companies started getting all the public work and monopolizing the industry, so Armando, who spent the summers with his family in San Diego, packed them all, including his mother, into a van and ventured south of the border. It was a blistering 110 degree mid-summer day with a sand storm on the Laguna Salada for their expedition to check out the little town of San Felipe 120 miles from the Calexico-Mexicali border.

He stood on top of a sand dune, where the San Felipe Marina Resort hotel stands today, and had a vision. He would build and develop a luxury resort to attract tourists from the Baja and Southern California markets.

Back then, the only offerings in Baja were low to mid-tier hotels. Tijuana was far from the hip metropolis that it is today, and Ensenada was a small fishing town without the hype, cultural and culinary success it now enjoys. San Felipe was then best known for its primitive beachfront camps, bars and fish taco stands.

Armando hired one of Mexico’s top architects, Gonzalo Gomez Palacio, who envisioned a modern structure with influences from contemporary geniuses such as Luis Barragan and Ricardo Legorreta. Armando’s tractors graded in harmony with San Felipe’s natural terrain. He created a triangular shape based on the sand’s natural resting angle of 48.5 degrees, and thus, the second modern structure of significance was born in Baja (after Pedro Ramirez Vazquez’s  SECUT in Tijuana). The hotel’s design gained international praise from many architectural authorities, historians, books and magazines and achieved the same recognition as the then newly-opened Westin Regina in Cabo San Lucas.

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The San Felipe Marina Resort today

While the hotel was under construction, people thought Armando was crazy (a constant comment in his life), and when it was painted bright orange, it only drew more incredulity. However, when finished, it became regarded as an architecturally influential project and an icon for San Felipe.

Building the hotel was not an easy task. Materials and labor were scarce in San Felipe, as they still are, and all the wooden beams had to be shipped from Oregon. It was a sustainable vision from day one, and Armando spared no expense, building it with double concrete and brick walls between rooms to provide thermal mass, absorb heat and create an identity of strength and solidity. The windows and doors were constructed with a then-new double-pane glass system from Germany and craftsmen were brought from Zihuatanejo to build the Palapa (still one of the very best in Baja).

Armando tirelessly promoted the San Felipe region and his resort, traveling internationally to places as far away as Japan and constantly undertaking publicity trips throughout Arizona and Southern California. The hotel saw its ups and downs through the different economic cycles and staying afloat was never easy, but he never let go of his dream, trust and belief in San Felipe. Like Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, he sailed out into an adventure to catch his Marlin, and through hardship, change of tides, and brutal attacks, he managed to bring his giant fish ashore.

He also ventured into San Diego’s Barrio Logan district  and turned an old factory into one of the first large-scale farmers markets that still stands today. As much as he believed in the Baja and Southern California market, he always had huge respect and belief in his fellow countrymen who migrated north of the border.  They greatly contributed to his projects and to the well-being of the Latino Community throughout San Diego.

Another example of Armando’s transformative initiative was in the Ocoyoacac region – centered around a small town between Mexico City and Toluca. As with all his undertakings and endeavors, he changed a location that had seen barely any development in generations into a modern industrial complex. When this project was completed, many other entrepreneurs and companies followed suit and Ocoyoacac is now one of the most important industrial locations in Mexico.

 A modern day Don Quixote, Armando rode and fought with passion. Wherever he went he saw an opportunity with enthusiasm and positivity, no matter how challenging and adverse the situations were.

As the 2000’s rolled in and San Felipe and its market experienced major growth, his vision evolved, and he further invested and started working on the phase 2 and 3 constructions, still in progress, on his San Felipe land.

The inevitable crash of the market came to Baja shortly after the collapse of the housing market in the U.S. In addition, the insecurity in the border cities, coupled with the increasing regulation of people crossing the borders, created a very tough environment for the state of Baja California. San Felipe was undoubtedly the most affected tourist/retirement destination in Baja and many developers went under. But not Armando! His spirit and tenacity served him well in the struggle to survive, and once more like Hemingway’s character, he held on to his trophy no matter how hard and tough the fight was. He weathered every storm with strength and dignity and always with his incomparable human touch, making friends and treating everyone with respect. His personal warmth and sense of humor will be remembered by all who knew  him.

 Armando died peacefully in Mexico City as a result of cancer on September 1st. 2016.  He is survived by his wife Patricia, his three loving children, 4 grandchildren, 3 brothers and large extended family. Without a doubt, his greatest personal achievement was his role as a family man and a friend to so many. Married for over 45 years, Patricia always rode beside him; a companion in his many adventures, and a life partner who shared and encouraged his visions. It will be difficult for those who knew him to think of the one without the other. She was, without question, the engine of his success as a man.
When future books on the development of Baja California are written, Armando Ramos will  truly be recognized as one of the key individuals who put San Felipe on the map and on the road to becoming a great tourist resort.