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San Fernando Valley’s last orange grove on its way to becoming a city landmark

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The family that owns Tarzana’s Bothwell Ranch has listed it for sale—as a development opportunity

Oranges grow on trees neatly arranged into rows.
Southern California once dominated the state’s orange production.
Shutterstock

The city’s cultural heritage commission voted unanimously Thursday to preserve a San Fernando Valley citrus ranch that officials say is the last of its kind.

The commissioners voted unanimously in support of landmarking the 13-acre ranch and commercial orange grove, with commissioner Richard Barron calling it “one of the cleanest, clearest [examples of a monument] I’ve ever seen.”

The grove’s status still requires the approval of the full City Council, but it already has the support of Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who represents the area.

“A lot of folks don’t realize the Valley was once this great agricultural center,” Blumenfield said at a committee hearing in August. “This property is literally the last remaining commercial orange grove—not just in the Valley, but in the city of Los Angeles.”

The Bothwell Ranch, located in Tarzana, was listed for sale earlier this year. Promotional material described the property as a “rare infill location” and laid out plans for 26 new single-family homes that could be developed at the site.

The possibility that the land could be sold and redeveloped inspired an online petition calling on city leaders to preserve the ranch as a historic site. In July, Blumenfield authored a council motion kickstarting the process of landmarking the site.

The San Fernando Valley was once farmland and ranches. This photo was taken circa 1937 in an orange grove in what is now Granada Hills.
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

That’s raised the ire of the Bothwell family, which owns the property and does not wish to see it landmarked.

“Preserving this as a farm forever would take away all economic value” of the land for the owners, Andrew Fogg, an attorney for the family, told commissioners.

The family needs to sell the land because, according to Fogg, the orange orchard has become prohibitively expensive to maintain: In 2017, the ranch’s water bill was more than double the revenue brought in from the sale of its oranges.

Bothwell Ranch “hasn’t turned a profit in over 50 years,” said Fogg.

Landmarking the property would not preclude future redevelopment of the site, but it would give city officials leeway to review plans and potentially delay construction for up to a year.

Blumenfield emphasized that his landmarking effort is not about blocking construction on the site.

“This effort is not about stopping all potential development but rather ensuring that if anything is built here, it embraces the rich past of this incredible site,” Blumenfield said in a statement.

Blumenfield also said that his staff will continue to meet with the community, developers, and the owners of the ranch to discuss “different realistic options” for the future of a site that symbolizes an incredibly important part of the Valley’s history.

Only a century ago, Southern California led the nation in citrus production. In 1901, 4.5 million orange trees grew statewide, with farms concentrated in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.

But with land values skyrocketing, most of LA’s citrus ranches had been subdivided into residential developments by the 1970s,

Most of the Bothwell Ranch has already been sold off and incorporated into the surrounding neighborhood. According to a report from city planning staff, the ranch contained roughly 30 acres of orange groves when grower Lindley Bothwell purchased the property in 1926. Today, only 13 acres remain.