Edward Ware Tabor, a successful entrepreneur in his early 30s, sold his businesses which included Tabor Luxury Airlines in the United States in 1951, making him a very wealthy man. Legend has it that he withdrew all the cash proceeds from the sale, stuffed it into a satchel, then he and his wife checked into a posh hotel in Los Angeles, and dumped all of the money from the sale onto the king-sized bed.
Later, he explained, “We just wanted to see what the fortune looked like piled high on the bed!”
Tabor spoke of starting a new business in Baja and although several of his Mexican friends encouraged him to do some exploring before making any decisions, the impulsive Tabor decided the best way to truly examine the peninsula would be in a seaplane. After a great deal of research, he purchased an amphibious PBY twin-engine plane in preparation for the next chapter of his flamboyant life.
He made numerous exploratory trips landing in various bays and coves where he fished, swam, and investigated. Enchanted by the Baja peninsula, he discovered that he was drawn to Loreto.
His travels confirmed much of what he read in his dog-eared copy of John Steinbeck’s book, “The Log from the Sea of Cortez.” Published in 1941, the book was an account of a marine specimen-collecting expedition Steinbeck made in 1940 in the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez, with his friend Ed Ricketts, marine biologist, an inspiration that Tabor never forgot.
On one of his final exploratory flights, he met two important and influential individuals who contributed a wealth of information about their respective hotel operations. The first, Abelardo Rodriguez, Jr., was the founder of the Hotel Las Cruces near La Paz, son of the former President of Mexico who was also a former WWII pilot interested in aviation; the other was Luis Coppola, the founder of the Finisterra Hotel in Cabo San Lucas.
Ignoring the cautionary advice of Coppola and Rodriguez to move forward slowly, the impetuous Tabor swaggered into his newest venture with gusto! He began hauling anglers down in his PBY to fish the various areas before deciding that Loreto, one of the oldest villages in Baja, would become the home for his Flying Sportsman Lodge.
He purchased a property overlooking the Sea of Cortez, complete with a bar and restaurant that served international cuisine. It was also equipped with air conditioning and heating, plus it had a well and a swimming pool. Tabor added a flotilla of sportfishing boats equipped with fishing and diving gear.
Characteristically, Tabor continued at full speed… traveling straight to Mexico City where he began the challenging process of acquiring the necessary permits to operate an airline in Baja.
After succeeding, he purchased two World War II surplus B-25s, modifying them into 25-seat passenger planes with carpet and small lavatories. Soon, he was transporting guests from Mexicali and Tijuana to his Flying Sportsman Lodge. Divorcing his first wife, he married Bertha Davis, the daughter of an influential Loreto family and they subsequently had two daughters, Susan and Sonia.
As soon as word got out that one could grab a flight in Mexicali or Tijuana and a few hours later be sipping a Cerveza or Margarita while overlooking the Sea of Cortez, fish for a few days, and return to California for a ridiculously small amount of money, the formative 1960s went well.
Ray Cannon’s weekly column, which ran in Western Outdoor News from the early 1960s until he died in 1977, described Baja and its Sea of Cortez as teeming with a seemingly unending supply of exotic fish. Cannon’s descriptions attracted a rugged bunch of bold travelers from California and beyond who bravely took on the Baja badlands long before the road was paved. At the time, it was little more than a dirt trail used primarily by donkeys, horses, wagons, and 4-wheel drive vehicles. His eager fans returned with remarkable stories of the rough and rugged terrain of the Baja’s peninsula with water on both sides swarming with fish.
By the early ’60s, Tabor had purchased two surplus DC-3s to accommodate his growing clientele attracted to his successful formula for hotel and air service to Loreto.
Selling one of the B-25s to a Hollywood film company to be used in the filming of the movie Catch 22 in Guaymas, Sonora, the other B-25 died a natural death, rotting at the end of an obscure runway in Baja many years later.
When Highway Mex 1 was completed in 1973, the entire 1,100 miles from the U.S. border to Cabo, covering two states – Baja Sur and Baja Norte – offered a narrow, two-lane ribbon of asphalt allowing adventurous souls the ability to explore the peninsula by passenger car or light truck, and to tow their small boats. The first destination where many stopped was one of Ray Cannon’s favorite places, Ed Tabor’s Flying Sportsman Lodge, tucked into the shores of the Sea of Cortez in a small town named Loreto.
By adding Greyhound-style buses, Tabor increased his market to include not only San Diego and Imperial Valley, but the surrounding counties, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas. His package was appealing and included transportation, hotel accommodations for three days/two nights, and fishing for two days priced for only $129.
An early passenger reminisced about his flight down on one of Tabor’s DC-3s.
“The plane reeked of fish that had been hauled home in the luggage compartments.
Two dapper-uniformed crew members boarded after all the passengers were seated and slowly walked up the aisle that was on a sharp incline (DC-3s were tail draggers), each sipping a bottle of Corona! Tabor was the pilot, a young Mexican was co-pilot and Ed’s wife, Bertha, was the hostess. The box lunches served on the plane were from Kentucky Colonel!”
Both he and Bertha divided their time between the Travel Agency in San Diego and the Lodge in Loreto. They produced a documentary film, “Baja Fishing,” that aired on many of the television outlets throughout the Western states and their telephones rang constantly.
The same year Highway Mex 1 was completed, Aeroméxico began direct flights to Loreto, and the Tabors sold their fleet of DC-3s to the airline.
Ed and Bertha relocated to San Diego and began promoting the Flying Sportsman Lodge using travelogue films. They added additional destinations to their travel agency which now specialized in Hawaii, Mazatlán, and other areas of Baja California, and Fidencio Pèrpuli was left to run the day-to-day operations at the Lodge.
Tabor became ill at age 61 and grew progressively worse during the following years. He was hospitalized in San Diego where he passed away when he was 70 with his beloved wife Bertha and daughters at his side.
I was drawn to the Flying Sportsman Lodge by Ray Cannon’s WON columns on an Easter Week trip with my eight-year old-son in 1969. It was there, I met Tabor. His eyes sparkled as he showed us around his beloved lodge, a cornerstone of the early sportfishing industry in Loreto.
I recently visited the structure, or where the structure had been. The original Flying Sportsman Lodge is long gone, and his lodge has had many owners and several names over the past 40 years. The abandoned Tabor Flying Sportsman Lodge that had once stood with its signature stone and the concrete pier was gone. The small village of Loreto has become a town with an international airport, a bus depot, and a full array of tourist services were no longer there, but Loreto has not sacrificed its Baja charm.
I was told that the property had been purchased in 1996 by a Central California rancher, Jim Davison.
A beautiful home had been built where the famous lodge had once stood, and I began searching again. Not only did I find the home, but I also found an impressive man, one that I wanted to get to know better, and one that Tabor would probably have enjoyed knowing.
When I found him, I learned the history of the recent purchase. Jim Davison was flying his plane to Los Barriles on one of his frequent fishing trips, and he and his friends stopped in Loreto for lunch. Davison was charmed by the more laid-back atmosphere of Loreto and when they suggested staying the night, he agreed.
On a return trip, he began looking around at real estate and discovered the remains of the Tabor property, and after extensive due diligence, he purchased it.
Davison recently confided that he has been a veteran of many ambitious endeavors during his career, developing many different projects, and had become good at seeing the diamonds in the trash and rubble. Nevertheless, his friends suggested that in this case, he might visit a psychiatrist. Even his wife suggested he might have gone off the deep end on this project.
Once escrow closed and before Davison could begin building, the crew removed more than 200 dump truckloads of trash from the property.
Vowing to use only the finest materials and equipment, Davison began rebuilding, always deferring to total authenticity.
Trees along the front were only two to three feet tall when he purchased the disintegrating structure. Not one tree was cut down; instead, he built around them, allowing some to grow through the roof. He put in drip systems and then he began constructing the walls.
He leveled everything except the main house and a couple of the bungalows. Then he installed a new electrical system, 4,000 gallons of pressurized backup water, a transformer, and a large spa.
Not one piece of plywood or pine was used on the property. Instead, he imported Philippine mahogany and had it shipped to La Paz. A truck and trailer delivered the rough-hewn mahogany to Loreto.
A carpenter worked for over a year carving doors, and building cabinets. Everything in the house that was built of wood was built of mahogany because termites don’t eat mahogany!
The original bungalows were redone to match the initial décor. The original “Flying Sportsman Lodge” sign that stood over the structure for hanging fish was replaced with “Casa Davison” also matching the original style. His attention to detail was unbelievable.
In 2007, eleven years after he began, Davison finished his magnificent home, a tribute to his vision, and one that Tabor himself would have been proud of.
When I first saw Davison’s work, I was surprised — stunned at the beauty that had been raised from the rubble. This was nothing like the hotel that my eight-year-old son and I had visited. But both structures had been labors of love built by two successful men who were drawn to the beauty of Loreto, and who each had their separate visions for the one plot of land: one man was rash and impetuous; the other was dedicated and determined. Yet each left their stamp on Loreto.
I haven’t walked through “Casa Davison,” though I would like to. I would enjoy being shown the project by Jim Davison himself and have him describe in detail the design and thought that went into his home — I want to see if his eyes sparkle with pride as Tabor’s did when he showed my son and me around his Flying Sportsman Lodge.
A special thanks to David Kier for sharing a few of his family photos.