Madonna ranch sells for $6.6 million

Family from Topanga Canyon buys the Irish Hills parcel now used for grazing

jhickey@thetribunenews.comFebruary 10, 2011 

Buyer Steven Carlson plans to build two homes on the nearly 2,000-acre Madonna/Twisselman ranch lands he bought with his family at auction on Thursday.


“You have an opportunity — but it is fleeting!”

Those were the words of J.P. King auctioneer Lanny Thomas, whose Southern accent and fast-talking antics stoked the audience during occasional lulls in bidding for the nearly 2,000-acre Madonna/Twisselman ranch lands sold through absolute auction at the Madonna Inn on Thursday.

An absolute auction provides for no reserve price or minimum bid, so all in attendance knew one thing: there was going to be a sale. A $25,000 cashier’s check was required to qualify for bidding.

The property — which consists of two adjacent ranches in the Irish Hills south of San Luis Obispo that have been in the Madonna family for decades — sold after more than one hour and two rounds of bidding.

It sold for $6.6 million to Steven and Leslie Carlson and Steven’s brother, Richard Carlson, of Topanga Canyon in Southern California. The combined ranches were last listed for $10 million.

The sellers were Cathie and Karen Twisselman, daughters of Phyllis Madonna and the late longtime local businessman and rancher Alex Madonna. Currently the lands are used for livestock grazing.

“We don’t have a need for them,” Tim Twisselman, Karen’s husband, said previously when asked why the land was being put up for sale.

Seventeen bidders from California, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada participated in the auction, which was attended by more than 150 people, serenaded by live piano music and surrounded by green flowery murals of ranchland and countryside in the Garden Room of the Madonna Inn.

Attendees included ranchers in cowboy hats, speculative neighbors, tourists and real estate professionals, curious about what price the land would fetch.

“It’s part of our business to be here,” said Templeton real estate agent James Molnar, who recognized many agents or appraisers in the room.

The 746-acre Serrano Ranch, with seven parcels, and 1,229-acre Stanuseich (or “Stenuchi”) ranch, with 14 parcels, are located more than two miles outside San Luis Obispo city limits, off Prefumo Canyon Road. They are zoned agricultural and rural, respectively, according to seller Tim Twisselman.

The grounds are described in auction company J.P. King’s promotional materials as having “clear and open land, gently rolling hills, and an abundance of aromatic sage and oak trees,” with views of Pismo Beach, the Oceano Dunes and Morro Rock, as well as natural springs and red-rock quarries.

Serrano Ranch is in a Williamson Act land-preservation contract, which restricts a property’s use to agricultural and open-space purposes in exchange for lower tax rates. The Twisselmans did not know the when the contract expires.

The Carlsons said they own the Brewery Arts Complex in Los Angeles, an artists’ colony built at the site of a former Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery.

Leslie Carlson said the family intends to build two homes on the property so their 3-year-old granddaughter can spend time there.

She said she is excited to be in a beautiful place that feels remote but is close to a city. Steven Carlson said: “It sounds really funny — we are just going to enjoy it.”

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