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A Town for Sale

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As far as towns go, even some locals admit, Gorman isn’t much of one. A block away from a lonely off-ramp of the Golden State Freeway about 65 miles north of Los Angeles, one end of town is anchored by a nondescript sheriff’s station and the other--about a quarter of a mile away--is guarded by a Carl’s Jr.

In between stand a motel, a small restaurant, a convenience store and a few shops. And then there are the gas stations--two of them on one side of the highway, a third on the other--always open and willing to sell weary Grapevine travelers overpriced gas or maybe a new fan belt.

“And just think: All of this can be yours for just $13 million,” said Glenn Henry, smirking as he pointed out the window of his Texaco station at the top of Gorman Post Road, the town’s main drag.

Well, $13.6 million, to be exact. And for good measure, the family that’s trying to sell the town--lock, stock and barrel--will throw in about 3,000 acres of grazing land and peach orchards that by about the turn of the 22nd or 23rd Century could be a bedroom community of Newhall or Bakersfield.

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“I think the town is actually kind of cute, and the land itself is just beautiful,” said Glen Beer, the Century City realtor who stands to make a handsome profit if he can find a buyer who literally wants a town to call his own. “This town won’t become the next San Fernando Valley overnight, but the city is going to get here sooner or later.”

Hundreds of years before big rigs began storming up the Golden State Freeway or its predecessor, Highway 99, the Gorman area was a resting place and hunting ground for Chumash and other Indians traveling through the Tehachapis. Founded in the 1800s, the town itself was served by the fabled Butterfield-Overland Stage and was frequently visited by patrolling soldiers from nearby Ft. Tejon.

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Grocer George Ralphs, one of the founders of what is now the Ralphs supermarket chain, started buying up land in the area in the 1890s. By the early 1900s, the Ralphs family owned virtually the entire town as well as thousands of surrounding acres.

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Now, with most of George Ralphs’ descendants in their 60s and 70s, the family has decided to sell the town and the adjacent 2,863-acre ranch.

“The time has come when most of us begin to realize that there might be other options,” said Cecilia De Fazio, 61, a Ralphs family member who grew up in Gorman.

News that the family is trying to sell the town came as a surprise to most of the 60 or so folks who pump its gas and sling its hash.

“It certainly came as a surprise to me,” said Bob Lancaster, the only realtor who is based in Gorman. “I sure wish I could’ve got the listing.”

But now that the locals know that their town is up for sale, many of them are asking a logical question: Who is going to buy it?

“Or maybe the question should be, ‘Who would want to buy it?,’ ” said Henry, the Texaco owner who admits that he’s no big fan of Gorman’s small-town atmosphere. “Whoever buys this place ought to tear everything down and start over. It needs a lot of work.”

Realtor Beer said Gorman’s business has been hurt by the recession, which has cut down on the number of people who visit the area or simply stop for gas. More problems could come when a giant truck stop opens next month in Lebec, just a few miles north--a truck stop so big that it will employ 250 people.

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“It’s going to be hard, trying to compete with some place that large,” said Leslie Shishani, who works the night shift at Gorman’s Caravan Motor Inn.

With such large developments slowly moving in, still other Gormanites worry that whoever buys the town might start building homes on the poppy-strewn hillsides nearby, or mini-malls and other commercial developments that could ruin what Beer calls Gorman’s “rustic charm.”

“I don’t want to see us get a bunch of fast-food restaurants and stuff that causes a lot of traffic,” said Fawzi Kayali, who runs the local Chevron station and lives a short drive away. “I lived in Bakersfield for three months, so I know that living in a big city is no fun.”


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