All About Our San Clemente Hotel Owners: Rick and Sue
Sue and I want to first welcome you to our personal page that we’re really excited about because, well…it’s all about us! Kinda cool huh?
The Bottom Line
They were both born in California, both beach bums, both moved to San Clemente over 40 years ago, both had first marriages of 25 years, both met, fell in love, married, and began living happily ever afterward!
Rick Anderson lived and worked as a general contractor in town. He built the Casa Tropicana project in 1989. He owned and operated Rick’s Tropicana Bar & Grill located on the first floor for 15 years until he sold the business in 2004.
Susan Anderson was raised, and raised her family in San Clemente. She was a housewife worked as a painter & interior decorator. She also worked in a local market as a department manager until she met Rick.
Casa Tropicana Boutique Hotel Update 2013
Today the whole concept has been changed. Around the first of the year in 2013 Rick decided it was time once again to evolve, and reinvent his business. After a year and several months of research studying current traveler’s needs, changing demographics and travel patterns, he decided to re-brand Casa Tropicana as a new Boutique Hotel. This has been a huge success. All of the same amenities remained, but he added several more. It just had to be better. You need to come and see for yourselves, you’ll be delighted!
All of that hasn’t kept Rick and Sue from traveling a bit, well…quite a bit. But it’s all work related of course…mostly. About 15 years ago Rick was elected to the Board of Directors of the California Association of Bed & Breakfast Inns. (CABBI) In 1990 he became president of the largest state association of B&B's in the nation, and served for two years. During his acceptance speech he foolishly said, “….and I am going to come to your inns and visit all of you where ever you are!” This was one of those times when he really should have thought it through a little further. Being a man of his word however, he has personally visited as of April 2013, exactly 433 California bed & breakfast inns. Although it has taken longer than he originally anticipated. California is about 1,200 miles long you know.
This led to his election to Chairman of the Board for the California Hotel & Lodging Association, (CH&LA,) in 2011, representing about 173,000 hotel rooms in the state, and Board member of the California Tourism Industry Association, (CALTIA.) Rick served two four-year terms as a State Commissioner to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Jerry Brown in Sacramento on the California Travel & Tourism Commission. (CTTC.) One highlight for Rick was traveling to Tokyo Japan in Governor Schwarzenegger’s Delegation to promote California’s Bed & Breakfast and innkeping Industry to the Japanese travel brokers with the Governor.
So together they travel a lot up and down the state visiting hundreds of bed & breakfast inns and hotels…tough job huh? Now they have hundreds of friends all over the state. If you ever are looking for that special inn, just ask them. They can tell you where it is, who owns it, what’s for breakfast, and where to eat, almost anywhere in the state!
Another destination for them is Punta Chivato Baja Sur, Mexico. Sue’s parents, Harry & Pam Oxley, have lived down in Baja California for about 25 years now. It’s about ¾ of the way down Baja at the mouth of the Bay of Conception on the Sea of Cortez. Sue taught Rick how to deep-sea fish. He got real good too. If you don’t believe it, ask him about his true fish story of one November day catching an Orca whale using a live dorado for bait!
But What About the Trop?
One beautiful sunny summer weekend day in 1986, Rick and his first wife Christy were having breakfast at the Beach Garden Café just down the street from where Casa Tropicana now proudly sits. Rick, for no good reason looked down the street at an abandoned, blighted, vandalized, graffiti, kicked in, torn up, empty three story triplex and said with surprising confidence, “ I think we should buy that old tear-down building and make it a bed & breakfast inn!”
Now Rick really didn’t know what he was going to say when he started that sentence, but it ended up sounding pretty good! What Rick, a 31 year old General Contractor was really thinking was, I sure don’t want to be stacking roofs and rolling joists when I’m 40. Not knowing this, Christy replied, “We can’t because we can’t afford it, and where are we going to live?” “We’ll sell our house, I’ll do some temporary work on it and we can move in, make some plans, and then “Tear it down and build it!” Rick responded, again without really thinking. This exchange went back and forth for a little while longer with no clear winner, eventually they paid the check and went to the beach. Nonetheless, six days later, they were in escrow. Thirty days later they moved in with their two kids.
Thus began the famous 3½ year, 31 public hearing process that resulted in the Tropicana project consisting of a 12,600 square foot building built on a 3,200 square foot lot. 5 stories high, one restaurant, 8 B&B rooms and a 4,500 square foot owner’s home on the 4th and 5th floor in just under 10 months to open on July 1, 1990.
It just took one paragraph to say that, but it was a lifetime of grief to achieve the impossible. The only reason he was successful was, “He was too stupid to know what he wanted to do, couldn’t be done, and he should have quit!” The only other fact that allowed his dream to become reality was the bank that lent him the $2.5 million to build it, didn’t fully understand just how crazy this dreamer was. In the end it just came down to determination.
Originally Rick designed the first floor as the parking garage for the B&B. But the city had other ideas. He was, “ENCOURAGED,” to put in a commercial use. Knowing office or retail space would have no real chance of longevity, if ever, he thought he’d build a restaurant instead. He liked Mexican food and thought that would be a good idea, but before he opened he changed his mind. Instead, Rick’s Tropicana Bar & Grill became the locals hang out. With weekend dancing, Karaoke, margaritas, frozen pints of icy beer, bikini’s, peanut shells on the floor, great ribs, pastas, hamburgers, nachos, a Mexican menu, and even some Hawaiian grinds. The Trop Rocked! It was truly a fantastic little beach bar & grill. The Trop served the pier area until he sold the business fifteen years later. “It was a blast when I was thirty!” he says, “but now it’s killin me.”
Ah, But for the Details…
Rick graduated high school in Cerritos CA, and moved to San Clemente in 1973 at 18 to open a new Mc Donald’s restaurant only asking before he moved, “Is San Clemente near the beach?” Rick worked for Mc Donald’s until he quit to go work in a block and brickyard in San Juan Capistrano to make the astounding, “Now I’m gonna be rich!” hourly rate of $3.00 per hour. A year later he began working for a general contractor. He started by digging holes and carrying lumber. He worked his way up to using a hammer until he was laid off one rainy December morning due to lack of work. It was 1976. Desperate to take care of his pregnant wife, Christmas, and new mortgage, he drove around town looking for a construction job. Finding a homeowner struggling to do a room addition himself, Rick walked up and asked if he needed any help. When asked how much he charged an hour, Rick confidently replied, “$5 sir!” Although he was terrified to respond at such a high amount, they shook hands and that is how it all began.
Rick took to carpentry and soon had his own general contractor’s license and full constriction company. At one time he ran three full crews in San Clemente, had a dump truck, Bobcat tractor, trailer, and backhoe. All he did was second story additions in town, in a time when no one wanted to, or really knew how to. That was what made him successful. He soon learned all of the trades and not relying on subcontractors could quickly finish jobs and moved to the next. Coordination and complete control insured quality building and a great reputation. It would take thirteen years, until Rick would to build the Tropicana Project.
Meanwhile Sue came to San Clemente in about 1971 and finished school here. Her father Harry Oxley started Speedway Motorcycle Racing in the USA at the Costa Mesa Fairgrounds. She married her first husband and had four kids, three girls and one boy. They were all raised in their little beach town. The population back then was about 14,000, a real small town compared to the 68,000 of today. They only had two traffic signals in town and about 6:00 pm each night they would switch to blinking red.
Sue raised her family just a few blocks away from the home Rick was raising his two kids in. They would often wave at each other as he drove by while he was working on the south end of town. Her family was raised in the sports industry. Sue worked weekends in Costa Mesa at the Speedway track with her dad, and worked on panting contracts. She still likes to hold the title of painting princess. She would brag about not ever having to clean he own paint brushes, Rick would one day break her of that privilege. Sue became, and still is an excellent painter and decorator. Her husband was a surfer and they raised their kids on the beach and at surf contests. Although Sue would tell you without any hesitation her first marriage was less than perfect. After almost 25 years she agreed to move to Costa Rica and give it one last try there. She didn’t last a year before she came home alone. Which is how Rick found her. And that is when the magic began…