Drive on I-5 north from Los Angeles towards San Francisco and you will reach, about forty miles away, a long climb through desolate, windswept mountains. The Tejon Pass, also known as the Grapevine, is a wayward stretch of the journey, likely to be closed in the event of heavy snowfall – the kind of highway that has ominous signs following rising temperatures. altitude and inform drivers of the next opportunity for radiator water. As the highway climbs, the air cools and thins. Gas stations are scarce, and drivers who make the mistake of thinking that on the main thoroughfare connecting northern and southern California there must be a gas station at the next bend will eye Gorman and then will pay a premium, chills at the sudden drop in temperature. Southern California’s urban sprawl suddenly seems far away; there is a border after all.

West of the highway is mostly national forest; to the east is the largest continuous tract of private land in California, just over four hundred square miles, owned and managed by the Tejon Ranch Company, which has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 1999. This remote land and difficult, which has a cattle ranch, oil and gas facilities, a cement plant, pistachio and almond farms, a vineyard and a hunting operation – contains some of the last large tracts of native grassland that resembled before settlement , when the area was home to the Kitanemuk, Chumash, Tübatulabal, Tataviam, and Yokut peoples, among others. The land was parceled out to ranchers in the form of four Mexican land grants in the 19th century, and between the Gold Rush and the Civil War, the area briefly became a population center. In 1865 and 1866 the land was purchased by Edward Fitzgerald Beale, the Surveyor General of California and Nevada under Abraham Lincoln and California’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs. In 1912, Beale’s son sold the land to a group of Los Angeles real estate developers and businessmen, including Harry Chandler, owner of the Los Angeles Time. These investors took the Tejon Ranch Company public in 1936.

Wildlife biologists describe the vast territory, larger than some national parks, as a biodiversity laboratory. Although the region is only a quarter percent of California’s land, it contains about fourteen percent of the state’s native plant species. Multiple habitats converge here, including the scrubland of the San Joaquin Valley, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, some peaks of the Tehachapi Mountains, and the edge of the Mojave Desert. There are stands of pines and Joshua trees and eleven native oak species. The San Joaquin Valley kit fox and California condor are two of twelve threatened or endangered species that live here, and the land is part of a continent-wide corridor of genetic diversity that connects mountain lions from Southern California to those that are as far away. like the Cascades.

Today, the Tejon Ranch Company describes itself as a “diversified, growth-oriented real estate development and agribusiness company.” Being oriented towards growth means developing the company’s territory, which is in a way its only asset. If all goes as the company and its investors wish, three cities will be built on this land within thirty years. In an unincorporated area called Grapevine, where I-5 descends back into the San Joaquin Valley, the company will build a “close-knit community of neighborhoods inspired by the area’s rich agricultural heritage.” That is, twelve to fourteen thousand homes near the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center, a huge complex of warehouses and a shopping center that includes nearly two million square feet of land. Ikea distribution center as well as logistics centers for Caterpillar and Dollar General. Closer to Los Angeles, Tejon Ranch will build Mountain Village, billed as a “new conservation-based enclave designed to live in harmony with nature,” that will operate as a residential resort community, with a mix of primary residences and homes vacation. . Its amenities will include more than three thousand single-family homes, multiple spas, an equestrian center, a shopping center and seven hundred and fifty hotel rooms. Finally, about sixty miles from downtown LA, the company plans to build Centennial, a mixed-use community of more than nineteen thousand homes and ten million square feet of commercial space.