A one-time guest ranch west of Tucson — where notables including John Wayne, Clark Gable, Frank Lloyd Wright and Linda McCartney have kicked back amid classic desert splendor — is for sale.
Asking price: $4.89 million.
Rancho de Las Lomas, a 90-acre property with 13 stone buildings that now house 30 rental units, was designed and built mainly in the 1930s and 1940s by architect Margaret Fulton Spencer.
“It’s a paradise!” said Shayla Spencer, granddaughter of the architect and owner of the ranch now commonly known simply as Las Lomas or “The Little Hills.”
She has lived on the property at 4500 W. Speedway since she was 6 months old but now considers it her “home base” while living part of the year in Europe and Hawaii.
“It’s an amazingly uplifting, fabulous place,” Spencer said. “I would like to see it become an experiential, educational, environment center or academy” where people could focus on finding solutions to a wide range of problems and challenges around the globe.
A DESERT RETREAT
Architect Spencer bought the ranch site in the 1930s after returning to the United States from Paris, where she and her artist husband had lived until his death.
She designed and built the ranch buildings over a period of years — keeping most of the stone buildings low to meld into the desert surroundings, but including some two-story towers as well.
The site became a popular guest ranch retreat and attracted not only movie stars such as Wayne and Gable over the years but other well-known people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Timothy Leary and singers Marvin Gaye and Linda Ronstadt, Shayla Spencer said.
In more recent years, Las Lomas has been a rental community attracting artists, scientists, lawyers, journalists and others.
REASON FOR SALE
Spencer, 71, said other callings led to her decision to sell the property.
“My life’s work has been in conservation and preservation, and it has taken me to Hawaii, where I run a nonprofit,” she said. “It is now time to sell Las Lomas to a buyer who will carry on the legacy of my grandmother who was, most certainly, ahead of her time.”
FUTURE OF LAS LOMAS
Possible future uses of the site — depending on the buyer — include continuing to operate it as a rental property; turning it into a learning center or academy, which would be Spencer’s preferred outcome; creating a business retreat or institute; or opening a boutique inn or bed and breakfast lodge.
Its location — within a short drive of downtown and attractions such as Old Tucson and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum — could add to its value as an inn or resort, Spencer said.
But what might happen if a buyer decided to raze the existing buildings and put up a high-density housing development? Is there anything to prevent that?
The real-estate agent in charge of the sale, Nicole Brulé-Fisher, said a high-density development wouldn’t be allowed under the current zoning.
“The whole ranch is zoned SR, or suburban ranch, which allows for one house per 3.3 acres,” Brulé-Fisher said. “But there isn’t any sale agreement at this point in time. We haven’t had any such requests.”
Spencer said the property “wouldn’t need to be preserved exactly as it is. But the Tucson Mountains Association is a very strong association in the area. There would be opposition to any really inappropriate uses of that property.”
“I’ve been living out here for 16 years, and it’s an excellent place to do my work,” said Chandika Tazouz, an artist and writer. “It’s only a few minutes from downtown, and yet I’m in the desert with lots of wildlife — deer, javelinas and bobcats.
“It would be a wonderful place for all kinds of things — a healing-arts center, arts and crafts center or conference center,” Tazouz said. “What happens depends on who buys it. If somebody was to buy it and keep it as a rental property, I’d love to stay.”
Rich Landergren, who lives at Las Lomas and serves as maintenance manager, called the property “a unique, open piece of land. It’s got a great feeling.
“I would like to stay as long as I can,” Landergren said. “Hopefully, there will be some sort of role for me, depending on who buys it.”