831: The Soul of Hospitality
Nick Lombardo thrived on making a rich man’s land accessible to everyone.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
The parking lot at Rancho Cañada was full this past Tuesday, a perfectly blue, warm-breezy golf day. As I arrived, a couple of 40-something buddies pushed out through the clubhouse’s front doors, laughing and talking, walked over to a late-’90s Ford Taurus, and loaded their clubs into the trunk.
Nick Lombardo would have enjoyed seeing these guys. He built Rancho Cañada in Carmel Valley 35 years ago as a public course for regular people—like these Taurus drivers.
Along with a lot of people around these parts, I was saddened to learn last week that Nick had died at the age of 76. For the past year or so, I had intended to put together an in-depth profile of him for the newspaper. Now it’s too late.
Nick and I met about a year and a half ago. He had hired Lewis Leader, a former longtime Herald reporter who does some PR work nowadays, to help him push a plan to build a housing development at Rancho Cañada. Leader called me to arrange a meeting. We set it up, but I half dreaded it.
Over the prior 15 years, Nick Lombardo and the Weekly had been in almost violent opposition. And as many readers know, Lombardo could be a combative opponent. I had also been warned that Lombardo could be a charmer. I was prepared to be either attacked or schmoozed.
Lombardo spent five minutes or so giving me his side of the story of how he and my predecessors at the Weekly had become mortal adversaries. He then went directly to the fact that I might not like his plan.
He wasn’t antagonistic, but he did not pretend we ought to start off our acquaintance as best friends. That made sense.
Then he laid out his plan. He explained that he intended to abandon his long-fought proposal for a hotel at Rancho Cañada, and planned instead to build a big housing development. As he would continue to do, he pitched the project primarily as a way to build affordable housing. And he promised that 50 percent of the homes he built would be priced for regular working people.
He delivered a cogent argument as to why the Monterey Peninsula needs affordable housing—beginning with the fact that hospitality industry needs homes for its workers, and ending with the moral principle that employers are somewhat responsible for their workers’ well-being.
I did not know him well enough to judge how hard I was being spun. But I suspected that he was telling me the truth about his motivation—or at least part of the truth.
But I pointed out the fact that at the time, visitor numbers were off, which might make housing simply a safer bet than golf or hotels. Maybe his motives were purely financial. Lombardo wagged his finger at me and said he had something to show me.
A few weeks later, Lombardo called and invited me to join him for breakfast at the Pacheco Club, a private men’s club housed in an old adobe on Abrego Street in Monterey. He said he liked eating there because he could have a little bacon, which, he said, his wife didn’t allow in the house.
When I got there, he was already seated in a private nook off the main dining room. After some small talk, he handed me a folder. It contained newspaper articles in which he appeared, copies of speeches he had given and pieces he had written—papers going back 25 years.
They begin with the thoughts of a man committed to the idea of affordable, public golf, and they end with the thoughts of a man committed to the idea of affordable housing.
Here is an example:
It was during four years of a golf pro apprenticeship…living and playing golf by day with the leaders of the automobile industry, golfing with people like Henry Ford and others, basking in the good life daily with the kings of industry, then returning each evening to my $5 per week room in Detroit, further formed my thoughts and ideas regarding how and who of the golfing public I would serve in my chosen field.
These years and activities have strongly contributed to my decision and direction for affordable housing, my very humble beginning of life on the south side of Chicago framed my early thinking about people, opportunity, and the right to a good quality life that emanates from the framework of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
We have a moral obligation to develop and promote housing opportunities. A community cannot exist just on fun and games no differently than a body cannot exist on cake and cookies.
I think Nick Lombardo hoped his housing project would make him a lot of money. I think he also believed it would provide a nice home for regular people—Taurus drivers.
Agree with him or not on the crucial details, we’ll miss him.