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Thursday, Dec 8, 2022
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A Last Orchard

A local debate broke out this month when the heirs of Bothwell Ranch listed the property — one of the San Fernando Valley’s last orange groves — for sale with an eye toward redevelopment. At the center of controversy, the Bothwell family has received approval to subdivide the grove into 26 lots for new homes at the 14-acre property, located along the Tarzana-Woodland Hills frontier just south of the 101 freeway. While described as being located in Woodland Hills, the ranch technically lies in neighboring Tarzana. The asking price for the entire property is $14.9 million. But some people in the community are loath to see the orange grove go. L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents the area, does not want to see some 2,000 orange trees — mainly Valencia and Navel — eradicated after six-decades-plus in existence. Early in July, the West Valley politician launched an effort to designate Bothwell Ranch — originally founded by the late Lindley Bothwell and Helen (Ann) Bothwell — with protected cultural-historic status. “The Bothwell Ranch is a slice of Valley life that has been mostly lost to time,” Blumenfield told the Business Journal. “Calling for the preservation of this site is unprecedented for me during my time on the City Council, but it is a necessary step to save this unique place.” Infill opportunity The ranch was first put on the market in April by San Diego real estate firm Collier International in partnership with Coldwell Banker, billing the property as “an incredibly rare infill development opportunity.” The Bothwell family does not talk to the press, and since the brouhaha began, the listing has been suspended, according to a source close to the proceedings, while the Bothwell family tries to address the pushback with the help of attorney Calvin Slater of Slater Cosme PC in Pasadena. Slater could not be reached for comment by the Business Journal. The source added that early local newspaper reports were rife with misleading errors, mischaracterizing the residential-zoned property as a commercial orange grove. Frank Gamwell, a longtime neighboring resident working in real estate development, believes that since Ann Bothwell passed away, the descendants have stepped up shedding the Bothwell estate of its assets, including Lindley and Ann’s vast vintage racing car collection, auctioned off two years ago for more than $13 million. “It was really obvious the grandkids were going to sell the property as last year they sold off the car and other collections,” Gamwell said. The original property spanned 43 acres large, according to a contemporaneous Daily News article, when Lindley Bothwell first purchased the ranch in 1923. Upon Lindley’s 1986 death at age 84, Ann lived on the property and ran the grove until she died in 2016. “We all used to see (her) driving around in a Cadillac until she passed two or so years ago,” said Gamwell. The couple is survived by their two children, four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. “With 26 lots of a half-acre (apiece), the property is worth a lot of money,” Gamwell said of the Bothwell family’s plan to spin off the property into single-family homes that would each sell between $2 million and $4 million. “So, it was a matter of time. Clearly, they need or want the money in spite of the history. Quite literally, the old lady passed and they sold off the car and other collections. Now the property.” Blumenfield said that since Ann Bothwell’s passing, he has heard from many neighbors who were concerned that the last part of the farm was going to be altered. “The West Valley has a rich agricultural past that has mostly been lost and it is imperative to help save this sliver of local history,” Blumenfield said. Save the trees Between the 1920s through 1940s, farming dominated the region before a post-war baby and development boom eroded the agriculture open space. Roughly 75,000 acres of Valley land were devoted to cultivating tomato and lima bean fields, citrus orchards, walnuts, dairy and poultry, according to “The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb,” a book by LA Observed journalist Kevin Roderick. Of that acreage, some 750,000 citrus trees stood in San Fernando, Granada Hills, Northridge and other areas. After the Valley’s citrus industry faded with the arrival of the 1990s, Bothwell Ranch sold its oranges to a Sunkist packing house in Oxnard. Bothwell Ranch notwithstanding, today’s Valley citrus groves has been whittled down to 8 acres of non-commercial citrus groves at California State University – Northridge, plus another acre at the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department-managed Orcutt Ranch in West Hills. Said Roderick: “The remaining evidence of agriculture is pretty much down to the commercial fields in the Sepulveda Basin, a few pockets in Sylmar and the Northeast Valley, the equestrian zones around Chatsworth and Shadow Hills, and scattered overlooked examples like the Jue Joe asparagus ranch and barn in Lake Balboa.” Blumenfield is clear that he is not against developing the property. However, he wants the land’s incoming custodians to be good stewards of the Valley’s agrarian past. “This motion wasn’t put forward to block any specific development as nothing yet has been submitted to the city,” he said. “This also doesn’t restrict any potential development, but it does ensure that potential plans are held to a much stricter process and that every effort is made to preserve the integrity and historic nature of the site.” Blumenfield is not the only local with big ideas for Bothwell Ranch. Nonprofit organization consultant Rob Hollman, founder and president of Rosinante Group Advisors in Valley Village, approached the Bothwells’ realtor with a plan. After finding the ranch’s listing online and touring the premises, he proposed converting the property into the Bothwell Ranch Family Foundation. Hollman admits that he was hoping to create a business opportunity for himself. “Ideally, yes, I wasn’t entirely altruistic,” he said. However, Hollman is quick to add that, as a third-generation Angeleno, he truly loves the area, and he has championed other historic preservation causes. “My dad grew up in the Valley not far from the ranch and I do not like seeing the overdevelopment,” he said. Hollman drafted a proposal on how to parse out the 14 acres by the parcel. He suggested creating a development that could still be a working ranch and make money harvesting citrus trees with museum-like components providing educational opportunities to showcase Valley history. Ultimately, the Bothwells’ agent rejected his idea. CSUN model Two Valley residents passionate about preserving the Bothwell grove include CSUN Professor Emeritus of Geography Robert Gohstand, who led a similar effort that led to the preservation of CSUN’s citrus groves in 1999, and Bothwell Ranch neighbor Elizabeth Kahn. “The Valley once had an agricultural past which provided the illusion of green space, but once it was developed into suburbia, it became a region short on parks,” Gohstand told the Business Journal. While an orange grove does not automatically meet the criteria for urban parks, it can be adapted into one, he said, and preserving the Bothwell grove could boost its surroundings and prove functional. “The CSUN orange grove now has a firm place in the university’s master plans and provides an attractive keynote for the campus,” Gohstand said. “The oranges are collected and donated, as well as being used to make marmalade for sale on campus.” Tarzana native Kahn, 26, grew up within walking distance of the groves. She has started an online petition in which she asks L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Sustainability Office to research the ranch’s environmental benefits. As of press time, her campaign has neared its 2,500-signature goal. In her petition, Kahn desires City Hall to determine if purchasing the property is aligned with the mayor’s Green New Deal plan, which he introduced April 29 with the target of “maintaining at least 90,000 trees by 2028.” But just how important is Bothwell Ranch as a Valley historical marker? According to Gohstand, “an orange grove serves an educational purpose in that it is a historic reminder of the Valley’s agricultural past.” However, from more of a cultural than environmental standpoint, Roderick is not as emphatic about saving these trees. “The Bothwell Ranch is a nice feature of that neighborhood, and certainly a great reminder of the Valley’s agricultural past,” Roderick told the Business Journal. “But it’s a last vestige of that past, located in the middle of a suburban neighborhood surrounded on all sides by homes that have been there for decades. It’s hard for me to argue that it needs to be maintained as a commercial orange grove. If someone buys it as a living museum or a public park, maybe. But even then, it’s not a great museum piece since there’s so much more to the Valley farming history than orange groves.”

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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