County List of Super-Rich Cut to 4

Times Staff Writer

Orange County's fabulously wealthy accounted for only 1% of the Forbes 400 list this year--four names instead of the usual five.

Dropped from the roll of the nation's most wealthy was Athalie Irvine Smith--Joan to her friends--granddaughter of the founder of the Irvine Ranch, which still is Orange County's single largest landholding.

Smith apparently was dropped because her personal fortune, estimated last year at $190 million, has been recomputed by Forbes' researchers to be below the $180-million mark that established the magazine's poorest of the super rich.

Topping the short list of Orange County residents on the Forbes 400 for the third year in a row is Donald Leroy Bren, who makes his homes in Newport Beach, Los Angeles and New York City and who owns just about all of the Irvine Co., which owns all of the Irvine Ranch--about 68,000 acres.

Estimate of $600 Million

Forbes estimates the 54-year-old real estate magnate's fortune at $600 million, up 14.3% from $525 million last year.

Bren, a former collegiate ski star, son of producer Milton Bren and stepson of actress Claire Trevor, began his career as a home builder in 1958. He was a co-founder, with fellow-Forbes 400 members Richard O'Neill and Alice O'Neill Avery, of the Mission Viejo Co., which developed the 11,000-acre planned community of the same name. When the Mission Viejo Co. was sold to Phillip Morris Co. in 1967, Bren continued building in Southern California.

He sold his development company to International Paper for $34.5 million in 1969 and then, when the paper company decided in 1972 that it really didn't want to be in the land development business, bought it back for $18 million--mostly in stock.

Bren first bought into the Irvine Co. in 1977, when the controlling Irvine Foundation was forced to liquidate. In 1983 he secured control of the company with a $525-million leveraged buy-out.

In recent months, Bren has begun consolidating his control over the giant development company, reshuffling management assignments and reorganizing the operating structure. The company also recently laid off about 250 workers--18% of its total work force--leading some Bren-watchers to speculate that the company may be experiencing some cash-flow problems.

Tied for second place on the county list of megamillionaires at $375 million apiece are siblings Richard Jerome (Dick) O'Neill of San Juan Capistrano and Alice O'Neill Avery, whose official residence is in West Los Angeles but whose fortune is tied to the 38,000-acre Rancho Mission Viejo.

Once the Boondocks

In 1985, Forbes figured that O'Neill, 63, and his sister, 69, were worth a mere $250 million apiece, giving them--on paper--a 42.9% gain over the past 12 months. The increased value doubtlessly has to do with the beginnings of development on the ranch, which until last year was kept largely in the pristine condition it has been in since 1882, when Nevada silver king James Flood bought 230,000 acres and hired O'Neill's grandfather, a San Francisco butcher and cattleman, to manage the place. To lure O'Neill to the huge ranch--located in what at that time was considered the boondocks south of Los Angeles--Flood gave him half-interest in the place.

The federal government purchased 160,000 acres of the ranch in 1939, paying one branch of the O'Neill family $5 million for what is now Camp Pendleton. Other sales and gifts of land have since then reduced the ranch to its current acreage.

The fourth name on the list: Burton (Burtie) Green Bettingen--a daughter of the first developer in Beverly Hills--whose fortune is estimated at $235 million--up from $230 million last year. She is one of three daughters of the late Burton E. Green, real estate developer and co-founder in 1911 of Belridge Oil.

Belridge was purchased by the Shell Oil Co. in 1979 for $3.65 billion and Burtie Bettingen, according to Forbes, celebrated by purchasing the late John Wayne's Newport Beach abode for a reported $5 million.

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