SOME EARLY REAL
AND HOUSING CONSTRUCTION
IN SAN FELIPE
By ROBERT C. SCHADE
After several years of visiting Baja in the late
60’s, my wife and I purchased a residential lot in 1975,
on the southern outskirts of town in what is now the premier
housing tract, Playas de San Felipe.
year later we began the construction itself, contracting a working
engineer, Jesus Jaramillo. My wife, Maruca, did the actual plans
for the layout of the two bedroom house, which was to be nothing
pretentious but a comfortable, attractive home.
At that time this development had the necessary
factors, city water, sewers, (not Septic tanks), and paved streets.
The streets were located on both sides of the present airport
road ending about a kilometer from the marina & fishing
docks. Back then all you could see were the sand dunes and we
were the first owners to build.
Electric power came much later, after the Mission
hotel was built and finished. The town had its own power plant
but our tract was without lines. Inasmuch as we were starting
from scratch, we made a written contract with the engineer,
not based on time but on a peso amount, calculated on the square
meters to be built. This included both labor and materials with
the engineer deciding the percentage. I was still living, and
working in Southern California, so I sent him monies twice monthly.
Our tract had the stipulation that a house was to be built on
the land, and not just a mobile home or trailer moved onto it.
After all this was a housing tract and not an RV park.
Consequently, to summarize the construction, unlike
California houses, which are made by carpenters, we built a
house which required huge rocks and concrete for the deep foundation,
steel rods, cement blocks and bricks, which eliminated any termite
The only wooden beams used were to support the ceilings and
for decorative purposes.
Our initial plans provided for only a porch in front with the
garage space open underneath because we did not need a covered
garage yet. Later on we shall relate our adventures with that
aspect of additions. Our house had the appearance of a two story
place due to its split level lot. A cement stairway led from
the street up to the only entrance and nothing open in the back.
When all was finished, we were surprised to see that our house
was featured in the Baja Times as a typical vacation home.
On short vacation trips to see the construction
work, once the main frame was almost completed, we slept on
cots inside, using oil lamps and ice chests. We often had to
endure bats, which nested in holes and banged against the walls
as they flew around.
At dusk you could see the bats hovering over the street as birds
do not fly at night.
Playas operated a business office downtown staffed
by sales representatives and little by little people began to
build in the early 80’s. Then the only supplier was Medina.
Probably the best known landmark, still today, is the big red
house located a block from the airport road on the west side.
We were good friends of the original owners, Helen, a Mexican-American
from California and Shirley, from Michigan. Their story is the
first in a line of intrigue and treachery in San Felipe housing.
A man who we will refer to only as Enrique, traveled to San
Francisco to sell Playas lots to these ladies and came back
with some $ 50,000.00 which was to pay for a lot and building.
Back then, a lot cost about 10 to 15 thousand dollars.
Anyway, these ladies set up house in a trailer
alongside the site being built, but before the project was at
all finished, Enrique left them high and dry. They filed a suit
in the local district attorney’s office but he countered
with the Mexican Amparo law, which delayed the suit indefinitely,
plus the fact he had political influence in Mexicali. The ladies
tried to pressure the situation standing on the highway with
signs saying “Enrique is a crook,
Do not do business with him.” Shortly thereafter the city
fathers confiscated the placards.
Therefore, Helen and Shirley continued to build
and due to the fact they used many different crews, the house
mushroomed to what it is today, with a swimming pool, big rooms,
imported tile, two door garage, etc. Unfortunately, they were
both confirmed alcoholics and died of the abuse.
However, Enrique did not actually leave town but
continued to sell lots. It was rumored that he sold a lot more
than once, so when people later tried to build, they encountered
problems galore. May I add that after we built our house, we
had the title and deed duly registered by a Mexican lawyer in
Mexicali, a Notary Public.
Enrique’s next step was to organize a construction
crew with his two brothers, and they did a lot of work in Playas
on houses on the street directly in front of the beach. He had
complete knowledge of who bought what lot and frequently made
his business over food and drink at the Hotel Lucerna in Mexicali.
During this period we were still living in California but needed
to have the garage roof done. This served a two-fold purpose:
two door garage enclosed and a big red cement terrace, which
would be fenced off with a decorative wrought iron railing.
Therefore, we hired a mason to do the job and
paid him in advance but when we returned several months later,
he had skipped town, doing just half the work. This was the
first time we had been scammed or fleeced, but we did not take
it lying down. With a bit of detective work, we found out he
had left his wife here and ran off with his new honey to Tijuana.
His wife was more than glad to tell us where to find him. He
was working in “Squatter’s Hill” Tijuana.
It took us three trips from Redondo Beach, California, to locate
him: (boy, was he surprised). With the help of a lawyer, we
pressured him into signing (Letras) a promissory note, and we
got our $ 300.00 back.
The 1980’s saw a housing boom and a new
hotel complex sprung up at Punta Estrella Beach, some 10 miles
south. We watched the hotel grow up with a huge swimming pool,
some nice quarters and a dining room which served a great buffet,
and the first of its kind in the area. We attended the open
house party and mingled with the investors and guests, all of
them confident the place had a rosy future. However, a few years
later it seems the down payments of $ 1,500.00 to build condos
never materialized and the crooked promoter took the monies
and ran. Unfortunately, several years later the hotel management
also ran into trouble by not paying wages and the employees
began to strike. This lasted over a year, and so the hotel closed
its doors permanently.
I would like to add one more thing, people on
the Pacific side of Baja have expressed their views that here
we do not have the hassle of high pressure salesmen in real
estate. Hogwash!!! A case in point; an elderly friend of ours
from Portland, Oregon, who comes here yearly, was hoodwinked
out of $ 5,000.00 on her credit card, mind you for a time-sharing
plan at the Marina Resort, by an American sales executive to
boot. She can now stay at the hotel for seven days for $ 180.00,
which is called a maintenance fee. I call it a rip off! If she
stays longer than seven days, she has to pay the full price
$100.00 per day.
Of course, there are good contractors and honest
builders here. Also, construction in and around San Felipe is
on the rise. We have the luxury of two big time real estate
firms, plus our own “Call Margaret” agent for some