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Foundation to Preserve Tarzana Orange Ranch

The Bothwell Ranch Foundation, a new San Fernando Valley-based nonprofit aimed at preserving the Valley’s last commercial orange grove in Tarzana, has formally launched. In a symbolic gesture, L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and Foundation Board Chair Rob Hollman announced the foundation’s formation on April 22 – the 50th Earth Day commemoration – as he has created legislation to designate Bothwell Ranch a historic-cultural monument. For nearly a century, the Bothwell Ranch, located at 5300 N. Oakdale Avenue in Tarzana, had been a commercially operating orange grove. At the time, the San Fernando Valley was an agricultural powerhouse. Purchased by Sam Bothwell when it was a 100-acre property, Lindley Bothwell and his wife Ann became the eventual caretakers. After decades of development in San Fernando Valley, only 14 acres – and 2,000 trees – remain of the orange trees that once cover the Valley floor. In recent years, the Ranch has been on and off the market as the family has been trying to lure developers by offering to subdivide it into 26 separate lots. A source told the Business Journal that at one point, Caruso was interested in developing property. But because it couldn’t host the number of residential units needed to make the property profitable, a deal never materialized. Last July, preservationists and concerned locals, including Blumenfield, rallied to try to dissuade the family from selling off the land to developers. The Bothwell Ranch Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, plans to fundraise to acquire and operate the Bothwell Ranch. The Bothwell Ranch Foundation Board includes Miles Lewis and Jane Dalea-Kahn, neighbors of the orchard; and preservationists and Esotouric historical bus tour business founders Kim Cooper and Richard Schave. Los Angeles County Arboretum Chief Executive Richard Schulhof is the board’s advisor. In a conversation with the Business Journal, foundation chair Hollman said he is hoping that the surviving Bothwells will be amenable to a sensible, mutually beneficial deal. “Our main goal is to raise the funds to buy the ranch and we want to be able to offer a price to the family that is market value,” Hollman said. “The historic monument status will be a permanent factor of the ranch. A certain portion of the ranch will be intact. You can cut trees down, but a minimum acreage of the ranch has to be maintained.” Hollman believes it’s a good time for the Bothwells to consider a deal. According to Hollman, the orchard continues to operate commercially, servicing citrus to Sunkist. He explained that the Bothwell family has been concerned about the expenses involved in maintaining the crops, with the cost of water and other agricultural resources outweighing the revenue incurred. The best scenario, according to Hollman, will be if his foundation can buy it and maintain the ranch as an educational destination. He is optimistic that a May 20 L.A. City Council hearing will solidify the site’s historical status. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to create more green space. Certainly, it is something we will need more of in the post-COVID-19 world,” Hollman said. The Business Journal reached out to a representative of the Bothwell family but did not hear back by press time. The foundation will collaborate with like-minded nonprofits on the educational side to share the ranch. “The effort of preserving the Bothwell Ranch is driven by the love and appreciation our community has for this unique place, and I am grateful for the Bothwell Ranch Foundation for helping galvanize that support,” Councilmember Blumenfield said in a statement. “When you are standing in the middle of the groves, you are transported to a different and simpler time and we hope to save this sliver of agricultural history for future generations.” The foundation has its roots in a grassroots effort led by a pair of orchard neighbors, Lewis and Dalea-Kahn, after Kahn’s daughter, Elizabeth Kahn, had garnered signatures via a Change.org petition to preserve the orange groves in 2019. L.A.’s Cultural Heritage Commission has approved Blumenfield’s preservation legislation, which now awaits an L.A. City Council hearing. While this legislation does not prevent development of the land, it creates a process whereby development of the orchard property must reflect its historical usage.

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.
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