The Restoration of San Ysidro Ranch

The famed San Ysidro Ranch was named the No. 4 Hotel in the World by Travel + Leisure’s T+L 500: World’s Best for 2011.

Nestled in the Montecito foothills of Southern California’s wine country, San Ysidro Ranch has provided a superb vacation destination for discriminating travelers for over a century.

Guests are drawn to the Santa Barbara hideaway for its blend of natural beauty, romantic heritage and classic luxury.

The Kennedys, courtesy of Susie Barker Lavenson

The Kennedys, courtesy of Susie Barker Lavenson


Myth and history are intertwined in the lush gardens where Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier exchanged vows; in the setting of John and Jackie Kennedy’s honeymoon retreat.

But before it became a storied destination hotel nearly a half century ago, the San Ysidro Ranch was on a fast decline.

Susie Barker Lavenson with architects and construction crew in refurbish of San Ysidro Ranch

Susie Barker Lavenson with architects and construction crew in refurbish of San Ysidro Ranch


A couple’s ability to conceptualize and imagine something non-existent and change it into a reality has resulted in her being credited with reviving enthusiasm for what is known today as the boutique hotel concept in America. 

Today, The San Ysidro Ranch is an internationally renowned hotel that has been visited by presidents, royalty and Hollywood celebrities who visit for reasons Jim Lavenson and Susan Lavenson envisioned. The crown jewel in the “American Riviera,” the Ranch defines the concept of California casual elegance.

It all began in 1976, as California native, Susan Lavenson and her husband Jim Lavenson purchased the near defunct San Ysidro Ranch, a 550 acre property on citrus and cattle land in Santa Barbara, California.  Together they rebuilt the failing property and restored the grounds and the structures on the property.

Susie Barker Lavenson

Susie Barker Lavenson


The path to San Ysidro began for Susie Barker Lavenson, who studied at Stanford University where she attained her PhD.

Ms. Lavenson was drafted into co leadership of her family business, Monogram Company, due to the untimely death of her father in 1961. As Vice President and creative director of the company, she reoriented the focus of the product lines and within four years the company quadrupled its performance.

She expanded Monogram’s international exposure via licensing agreements with a French paper converter, who produced Monogram’s designs for sale in Europe, thus creating an international products division.

In 1973 she married James H. Lavenson, President of New York’s Plaza Hotel. In 1976 she and her husband purchased the San Ysidro Ranch, a 550 acre hotel on a citrus and cattle property in Santa Barbara, California.

In her book, The Greening of San Ysidro, Ms. Lavenson shares many wonderful memories of the notable guests who stayed there:

“Richard and Jeannie Widmark lived in Montecito very near the Ranch, and became very good friends. Dick was a great horseman, raised paint horses on his nearby ranch. We spent every New Year’s Eve at each others homes..but Dick also came to the Ranch almost every morning for breakfast. When we sold the Ranch, Dick Widmark bought Jim’s car so he could have Jim’s license plate… SYR 1. Dick and Jeannie also visited us in Maine and he continued to be a truly loyal friend up until he passed away a few years ago. My Jim died in 1998, but Dick Widmark sent me a huge box of Harry and David pears every Christmas. One Christmas I didn’t receive the pears. That’s when I found out he’d passed away.”

The years of neglect were apparent in the thirty nine villas, the stables, pool, tennis courts, the grounds and the restaurant.

The amount of work needed to refurbish, refurnish, rebuild and restore the ranch was incredible.  However, both Jim and Susan had a vision and undaunted by detractors, she set about restoring the property.

After three arduous years, San Ysidro Ranch was restored and again became profitable.  The super-luxe boutique hotel was the first American hotel invited to join the luxury French chain, “Relais et Chateaux de Campagne.”

In 1990 Ms. Lavenson was elected to serve as the first President of the International Women’s Forum in the State of Maine.  
In 1993 Ms. Lavenson’s interest in emerging Management Information Systems and marketing led to her election as a Director of Pine Tree Computer Systems in Maine, and in 1994 she became Chairman of the Board.  She engineered the subsequent sale of Pine Tree computers prior to her relocating to Scottsdale Arizona where she currently resides.
In Arizona in 1999 Ms. Lavenson was elected to membership in the Arizona Women’s forum and is now a member of the board. 

Her essay on the rehabilitation of the San Ysidro Ranch was awarded the Non Fiction prize at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and she continues to write and attend Writer’s Conferences when possible. In 2002, she was presented with the distinguished Piper Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence in New Orleans. 

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