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World & Nation

800-square-mile Texas ranch for sale; all yours for $725 million

Waggoner Ranch prairie land

Prairie land on Waggoner Ranch in Texas stretches as far as the eye can see. 

(Chris Collis )

For sale: the biggest American ranch ever put on the block -- larger than Los Angeles and New York City combined -- nearly 800 square miles of north Texas prairie, cattle pasture and, of course, oil fields.

Price tag: $725 million, more than quadruple the biggest public sale of a U.S. ranch to date.

“It’s almost the size of Rhode Island,” said Mike Baskerville, court-appointed receiver managing the sale of Waggoner Ranch, about 175 miles northwest of Dallas. “It’s the last of the great family ranches -- the largest ranch in the country, we believe, under one fence.”

Actually, it’s not quite Rhode Island, which covers about 1,200 square miles. But the smallest state has only five counties, while Waggoner Ranch occupies parts of six. From there, Waggoner’s stats get more impressive.

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The 165-year-old ranch boasts a staff of 120, lakes, rivers, more than 100 properties, 30,000 acres of arable land, 1,000 oil wells, 500 quarter horses and 7,500 cattle, branded with the ranch’s signature DDD.

Waggoner Ranch entrance

The entrance to Waggoner Ranch in Texas, the biggest U.S. ranch to go on the block.

(Chris Collis )

A favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt and a former polo playground of Will Rogers, Waggoner Ranch drew the Hollywood and business elite in the 1920s. Among their hosts was Electra Waggoner Biggs, a sculptor who gained national acclaim for her busts of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman and Knute Rockne and became the namesake of General Motors’ Buick Electra sedan.

She died in 2001, and after years of litigation, last year a local judge ordered the ranch’s sale as part of the estate’s liquidation.

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It’s unclear how much the ranch could change with the sale. Commercial hunting has never been allowed, and only about 10% of the land has been explored for oil. It never developed the corporate branding of the famed King Ranch in southern Texas. Made up of separate parcels totaling nearly 1,300 square miles, King Ranch took its “running W” brand national with pickup trucks, leather luggage, western wear, a museum, daily tours, farming and recreational hunting.

Although locals expect the Waggoner Ranch’s buyer to develop it, they hope it’s in keeping with the ranch’s character.

“A lot of people, especially in this area, would like to see the ranch go forward unchanged,” Baskerville said of the vast property. For people in the region, “the ranch has always been kind of an overriding presence, even though a lot of people never worked on the ranch or set foot on the ranch — just because of the scale of the thing, the fact that it’s located in six counties. There’s comfort in things remaining unchanged.”

Waggoner Ranch farm and prairie land

The Waggoner Ranch in Texas includes farm and prairie land. 

(Chris Collis )

Baskerville, who has been to the ranch several times recently and grew up visiting with his father, a bricklayer, said it varies from wide-open lake vistas to thick mesquite brush only passable on foot to “wild, sort of original country.” The sale has other brokers salivating. Co-brokers Chas. S. Middleton & Son of Lubbock and Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty of Dallas each stand to collect millions in commissions.

“A lot of brokers, they’re used to selling 10,000, 20,000 acres. Only a couple of ranches have sold for over $100 million,” said Jim Taylor, a partner at Billings, Mont.-based Hall & Hall, who had hoped to land the listing, not just because of the size but also because of the oil potential, which he calls “ranching with a mineral supplement.”

“It does have value. I’ve talked to people who are pretty knowledgeable about the value,” he said, but cautioned that although the ranch would be a good place to “park wealth,” it shouldn’t be more than 5% to 10% of a buyer’s net worth.

“There’s a pretty limited number of people who have the net worth it would take,” he said.

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Taylor said the ranch’s character will probably contribute to its allure.

“It’s obviously an iconic place, a big chunk of country — and it’s got a lot of history,” he said. “You would think a Texan would want to buy it, or somebody from that part of the world.”

The deadline to make a bid was 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Waggoner Ranch oil fields

The ranch is dotted with oil wells. 

(Chris Collis )

Serious offers were being entertained from only those willing to pay millions upfront, said Bernard “Bernie” Uechtritz of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty.

“It’s kind of a pay to play: You’ve got to submit $15 million as well as the wherewithal to enter into and close a transaction of this magnitude,” Uechtritz said.

He’s looking for a buyer who is “an iconic person, a land steward, somebody who will continue the lure and the legacy” of the ranch, “a legendary part of cowboy culture and the Wild West.”

Uechtritz grew up working ranches in Papua New Guinea, and he’s made a name for himself handling high-stakes real estate in Texas and California. He evaluated both O.J. Simpson’s Brentwood mansion and his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson’s apartment in Santa Monica and was in charge of the sale of Jose and Kitty Menendez’s Calabasas mansion.

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There’s no deadline for finalizing the sale, but Uechtritz promised to announce the results.

He had received about 700 inquiries from across the globe, including calls and emails, but said late Tuesday as the deadline neared, “We’re down to about 12 or 15 really serious contenders.”

Uechtritz said he expects to reduce the number of potential buyers to half a dozen in a matter of days, including some Texans.

“It’s been a very busy day,” he said.

And his commission? Uechtritz declined to say but noted, “Whatever it is, it will be well-earned.”

Waggoner Ranch lake

The massive Waggoner Ranch includes this lake. 

(Chris Collis )

Brooke Wharton, a Waggoner descendant, helps manage the ranch’s horse operation, which supplies working horses for the cowboys.

“Most of these guys have been born on either the Waggoner Ranch or other ranches and grew up helping their dads fix fences and check cattle,” said Wharton, 26. “Some of them have been on the ranch for generations. They’re like family to us.”

Although she’s sad to see the ranch leave the family, Wharton hopes it will be sold to someone who builds on the legacy.

“If it can’t be our family that keeps the ranch going, I hope that whoever does buy it will honor and respect the history that has been our ranch,” she said. “My best hope is that it will just continue as an operating ranch and continue the history for another 150 years.”

Twitter: @mollyhf

Hoy: Léa esta historia en español

 

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