DONALD L. BREN Newport Beach Forbes ranking: 14 Estimated fortune: $1.85 billion
The county’s largest landowner has seen his fortune triple in the past three years, according to Forbes, thanks largely to the huge increase in Orange County land values. The Irvine Co., of which Bren holds all but a tiny slice, owns 68,000 acres of largely undeveloped land in the county.
The 56-year-old Bren--son of movie producer Milton Bren and stepson of actress Claire Trevor--was born in Los Angeles but has been active in Orange County since the early 1960s. He was a co-founder of the Mission Viejo Co.
Bren began his career as a home builder in 1958. He sold his construction business to International Paper Co. in 1969 for $34.5 million and bought it back in 1972 for $18 million. He initially acquired a piece of the Irvine Co. in 1977 as part of the consortium that outbid Mobil Corp. when a court ruling forced the Irvine Foundation to place the company and its vast landholdings on the market.
In 1983 he engineered a $525-million buyout of most Irvine Co. shareholders, gaining 86% of the company’s stock. He has since increased his holdings to about 92%.
He moved up from 30th place in 1987.
HARRY HOWARD HOILES Santa Ana Forbes ranking: 243 Estimated fortune: $335 million
This will be the media heir’s last appearance on the Forbes list as an Orange County multimillionaire. He moved to Arizona this past summer.
The 72-year-old former co-publisher of the Orange County Register moved up from 291st place last year.
He is the youngest and only surviving son of R.C. Hoiles, the feisty libertarian who bought the old Santa Ana Register in 1935 and turned it into the flagship of a family-owned media empire, Freedom Newspapers, which now owns 29 newspapers and five television stations.
Hoiles moved to Arizona shortly after losing his suit to dissolve Freedom Newspapers--a suit that was born in a family feud over control of the $1-billion chain. His sister, Mary Jane Hoiles Hardy, of Marysville in Northern California, shares with Harry the 243rd spot on the Forbes list.
WILLIAM LYON Coto de Caza Forbes ranking: 268 Estimated fortune: $300 million
A retired Air Force brigadier general, Lyon, 65, made his fortune building homes and running an airline.
Lyon heads the privately owned William Lyon Co., a major Southland home builder, and from 1982-1986 was the hands-on chairman of AirCal, which he and Forbes 400 newcomer George Argyros bought in a bankruptcy sale in 1981 and sold to American Airlines in 1986 for a profit of about $15 million each.
When he is not working, Lyon pilots his own jet, is active in local charities and Republican politics and tends to a collection of 55 classic automobiles, all housed behind his Coto de Caza residence in a 15,000-square-foot museum with full-time curator-cum-master mechanic.
RICHARD JEROME (DICK) O’NEILL San Juan Capistrano Forbes ranking: 310 Estimated fortune: $275 million
O’Neill and his sister, Alice O’Neill Avery of Los Angeles, are principal co-owners of the vast Rancho Mission Viejo, the second-largest private landholding in the county with an estimated 38,000 acres.
While the ranch has been in the family since 1882, the O’Neills began building their fortune in the mid-1960s when, with several investors including Donald Bren, they formed a firm called the Mission Viejo Co. to develop a planned community on 11,000 acres at the north end of the ranch. They sold the company and the land later to Philip Morris Inc., which operates Mission Viejo Co. as a subsidiary.
Similarly, the O’Neills are developing the new community of Santa Margarita.
O’Neill, 65, is a former county and state Democratic Party chairman.
GEORGE LEON ARGYROS Newport Beach Forbes ranking: 335 Estimated fortune: $250 million
The 51-year-old developer makes his first appearance on the Forbes list.
A Detroit native and 1959 graduate of Chapman College in Orange, Argyros began his working career as a supermarket box boy in Palm Springs. He rose to manager before abandoning that line of work to become a commercial broker.
By the mid-1960s, Argyros had developed a thriving brokerage business and turned his energies to real estate development. He started with a small strip shopping center in Tustin and began building apartments in 1968. His company, Arnel Development, currently is building a commercial office and hotel complex near South Coast Plaza and over the past two decades has built about 700,000 square feet of office space and 5,500 apartment units in the county.
Argyros bought the Seattle Mariners baseball team in 1981. He also teamed up with developer William Lyon in 1981 to acquire AirCal, which the two sold in 1986.