55 years in the making, Palma de la Reina takes flight


Back in the 1960s, developer Richard Cavanaugh used to fly his airplane from Los Angeles over San Diego scouting potential properties. Flying over Rancho Santa Fe, he spotted the ideal open space, a farming area for sale along the San Dieguito River Valley.

“I was looking for something for a golf course, as golf course developments were big at that time,” said Cavanaugh, who would soon get his company, Newport Pacific, in touch with a broker about the land he spied. “We put a deal together and proceeded with the design of it. The whole development was always called Whispering Palms…It only took 55 years to get everything I envisioned to happen.”

The final piece of that Whispering Palms master plan drafted back in 1962 is finally in place with Palma de la Reina, a mixed-use retail, commercial and residential project on Cancha de Golf at the entrance to the Whispering Palms community of about 600 single-family homes and condominiums, and the Morgan Run Club & Resort.

For years, Cavanaugh would fly from LA to supervise his project as it was built, landing on an airstrip on what is now the golf course. His company built the golf course and was the original owner of the Whispering Palms Country Club — it would be renamed Morgan Run in 1993. In the 1960s, the grand opening of Whispering Palms was held with an event benefiting the Salk Institute and Cavanaugh said Jonas Salk himself was in attendance.

It’s satisfying for Cavanaugh to see that his vision for the community where he now lives is complete, as businesses have opened their doors in the retail element and the first renters have moved into two of the project’s 54 apartments.

The journey it took to get to this point has had its share of turbulence. Residents opposed the project through a series of lawsuits and, in recent years, there have been disagreements with the Whispering Palms Community Services District over a landscaping plan to remove the community’s 54 iconic palm trees.

Cavanaugh knows he won’t make everyone happy but he said he hopes people will enjoy the project now that it’s complete.

“There’s a certain number of people that were against the project who have come to me and told me they really like it,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s the best result.”

The original architect of Whispering Palms designed the residential development at Palma de la Reina in an Italian Renaissance-style with a light art deco color palette, similar to the retail and office buildings. Cavanaugh, who is in his 90s and is still an occasional pilot, was happy to lead a recent tour of the model apartments, with interior design staged by Klang and Associates.

Cavanaugh said his intent with the rare Rancho Santa Fe rentals was for the apartment to feel more like homes — the two-bedroom, two-bathroom units feature 10-foot ceilings, electric fireplaces and front and back patios. The two different floor plans both feature wood plank flooring, granite counter tops, full-sized washers and dryers, and access to a private swimming pool and spa that will be completed this fall.

The apartments also feature advanced energy technology, such as tankless water heaters and Energy Star appliances.

The retail and office portion of Palma de la Reina is 50 percent leased.

Retail tenants currently open are the state-of-the-art fitness studio Gyrotonic Rancho Santa Fe and My Brighter Side, a boutique for women with cancer. Businesses opening soon include Whispering Palms Cleaners, Salon Draven, Bella Botox, a classic European steak house and Cappuccino, an Italian coffee house which includes a gourmet convenience market.

On the commercial side, Rancho Santa Fe Cosmetic and Family Dentistry is now open inside the main building, off the modern main lobby with high ceilings, a spiraling staircase and water feature.

Bob Baker Enterprises is set to move its corporate headquarters to Palma de la Reina this fall and Newport Pacific has also moved into the project — a huge upgrade from the office trailers they lived in for years on Cancha de Golf.

“There is a lot of interest but we really want to bring in amenities and services that will really benefit the community,” said Cavanaugh’s grandson Caleb McKinley, who is carrying on the family tradition as president of Cavanaugh Properties.

Located at 5533 Cancha de Golf in suite 102 near the entrance to Morgan Run Club & Resort, the leasing office is open daily for tours and information from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (858) 756-2747 or visit