October 17, 2009

California's Golden Door Spa Celebrates 50 Years

The San Marcos, Calif., health club opened its doors 50 years ago this year, and it wasn't long before men-only weeks began luring the rich and famous for some serious pampering.

Aldous Huxley's eyebrows are so caked with mud in the black-and-white photograph they look as though they might snap off. But the novelist hardly appears concerned with the future state of his eyebrows. More pressing, perhaps, is whether actor Jim Backus, encased in a coffin-like steam box nearby, might melt away more than a few extra martinis.??Officially, Huxley was participating in one of the first "men's weeks" at the Golden Door Spa in San Marcos -- 50 years ago this year -- to give a lecture on the "mind-body as one word." But like the 14 additional spa guests, Huxley was really there to experience the benefits of hula-hoop calisthenics, herbal wraps and alcohol-free "cocktails." It was a Brave New World of masculine mud masks.

"Taking in the men just fell into place, really," says Deborah Szekely, the energetic 87-year-old founder of the Golden Door, about five miles north of Escondido. "We had always been about coeducation at the ranch."

Szekely and her late ex-husband, Edmond, founded the Golden Door in January 1959 as an upscale version of Rancho La Puerta, the couple's coed, self-described "health camp" in Tecate, Mexico. In its earliest years, the ranch operated as more of a commune where visitors brought their own tents, tended the vegetable garden and attended Edmond's group health lectures. Clients looking for a little more pampering -- those with deeper pockets, such as Huxley and Backus -- ponied up for the Golden Door.

Within six months of its debut, the San Marcos spa offered its inaugural men-only weeks to guinea pig recruits. It was the first facility to open its doors to men in the United States.

Read the complete article at: The Los Angeles Times

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