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A California Property, Vacant Except for Century-Old Ruins, Lists for $78 Million

Montecito's roughly 330-acre Mar Y Cel is one of the largest undeveloped properties in the area

E.B. Solomont | Wall Street Journal

In the foothills above Montecito, Calif., a roughly 330-acre property with the remains of an amphitheater and stone aqueducts is hitting the market for $78 million.

With views of the coast, it is one of the largest undeveloped properties in the wealthy enclave, said listing agent Chris Harrington of Coldwell Banker Realty. Known as Mar Y Cel, the property is a series of 18 parcels, he said.

The sellers are Keith Schofield, 83, a research chemist and retired professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and his wife, Kay Robinson Schofield, 74. The couple bought the property for $14 million in 2000 with the intent of building a family compound, Mr. Harrington said.

Mar Y Cel is a local landmark developed at the turn of the last century by Henry and Ellen Bothin, Mr. Harrington said. Mr. Bothin was an industrialist who made a fortune in steel and real estate, according to “Henry E. Bothin, Philanthropist of Steel,” by Michael Casey, Mr. Bothin’s great-grandson.

In the early 1900s, Mr. Bothin and his wife built a roughly 12,000-square-foot mansion called Piranhurst at the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains, records show.

To bring water to the estate, they developed an elaborate irrigation system consisting of gardens and reservoirs, as well as gravity-fed aqueducts, waterfalls and scalloped basins. “They were obsessed with water,” said Mr. Schofield. “Back in 1900, water was everything—as it is today.”

The Bothins also built an amphitheater with about 200 seats halfway up the hill, and a “tea house” at the apex of the mountain where they hosted parties. Both were largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1925, Mr. Harrington said.

After Mrs. Bothin died in the 1960s, her heirs split the property in two, selling Piranhurst separately.

Mar Y Cel, comprising the remains of the tea house and amphitheater, traded hands several times before the Schofields bought it in 2000, records show. By then, it had fallen into disrepair, Mr. Harrington said. The couple cleared some of the paths, re-established water lines and repaired and maintained stonework, he said, but their plans to build on the property never came to fruition.

“We do have a house in Santa Barbara already, on the Riviera, and it boils down to you can’t have two major houses in the same town,” Mr. Schofield said. Now that the couple is getting older, he said, they are ready to move on.

About 150 acres of Mar Y Cel are held in conservation by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. Mr. Harrington said 10 of 18 parcels could be easily developed and are ready for the permitting process. He said a potential owner could build a family compound, as the Schofields envisioned, or a community of luxury homes. In addition to the 18 parcels, Mr. Harrington said three other parcels spanning about 12 acres are being offered separately for $12 million.

Mr. Harrington said the “crazy market” makes it the right time to sell. “What makes this unique is the ruins that are on it,” he said. “It feels like old Italian ruins.”


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