Historical Sespe Ranch Sold to Partnerships

Sespe Ranch, believed to be the largest parcel of land in Ventura County and beset by labor problems for more than eight years, has been sold for an estimated $23 million to a group of investors.

Sespe East and Sespe West, two Los Angeles-based real estate partnerships, have bought the property from Newport Beach Development Co., according to the San Francisco office of Rubloff Commercial Brokerage. Rubloff brokers represented all parties in the transaction.

Rumors that Sespe Ranch operator Rivcom Corp. joined the two partnerships in buying the property could not be confirmed. But a Nov. 11 statement released by Rivcom's parent company, Riverbend International Corp., said Rivcom and two other parties had agreed to purchase the sprawling 4,249-acre ranch.

Terms of the agreement call for Rivcom to continue operating the ranch, which one Ventura County broker said, would indicate that Rivcom is now a part owner. Escrow closed only recently.

Newport Beach Development Co. bought the ranch, known for decades as Rancho Sespe, in 1979. The new owners and its management company, Rivcom, promptly fired 150 ranch workers, touching off one of the longest-running labor disputes in Ventura County's history.

The dispute was partially resolved last October, when Rivcom and the United Farm Workers Union settled on a labor contract for the ranch hands. A key part of that pact calls for 35 union members and their families to move off the ranch by Jan. 15 in exchange for a $1,000 payment each.

The ranch, midway between the Ventura Freeway and Interstate 5 between Fillmore and Santa Paula, was part of the Spanish land grant made to Don Carlos Antonio Carillo in 1842. Sacramento mining speculator Thomas More bought the ranch when Carillo died in 1852, for about 70 cents an acre.

More eventually became embroiled in a prolonged legal dispute over the size of his property and was shot to death in an argument over the land several years later.

Chicago industrialist Morton B. Hull bought the land from one of More's descendants in 1888. His daughter and son-in-law, Eudora and Keith Spalding, eventually inherited the property and transformed it into a self-contained working ranch for livestock and citrus orchards.

By 1910, Rancho Sespe had become the world's largest lemon orchard. When Eudora Spalding died in 1942, she bequeathed the property to the Caltech in Pasadena, which used it for agricultural experiments.

The property was owned by several other parties until Newport Beach Development bought it nearly 10 years ago.

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