The one-block, 2.5-acre town of Harmony on Highway 1 about 6 miles south of Cambria has been sold.
The buyers are Alan and Rebecca Vander Horst of San Luis Obispo and Texas. Members of the Mehdizadeh family of Los Angeles owned the town for 17 years.
Alan Vander Horst is a Cal Poly graduate who majored in agriculture and is a member of a three-generation dairying family. He worked for Dairyman’s Cooperative Creamery Association in Tulare during the 1990s so, he said, he understands the history his family wants to honor and preserve, first by performing restoration of Harmony’s historical, if slightly ramshackle, buildings.
Casey Hosman, a broker-associate with the Real Estate Company of Cambria, represented both the seller and buyer. The parties declined to disclose the selling price. A four-day escrow closed June 20.
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“We want to recreate the special feeling of time gone by,” Vander Horst said July 1. He said he applauds the tenacity of tenants who stuck it out during the town’s lean times. “I see this is an opportunity to be part of the history, to be part of something fun and quirky,” he said. “We look forward to a wonderful future for Harmony.”
Aarika Wells, the town’s historian and manager under both the prior and new owners, said the new owners “really seem to want to preserve and protect the town … this is kind of exciting. It seemed to happen almost overnight.”
Wells said former Harmony owner/landlord James Mehdizadeh had “always taken the position he was not going to ever sell Harmony. Then, all of a sudden, I got a call from him. He said he realized he really can’t provide the things for the town, for the merchants, that he’d really like to do, and that it’s beyond his ability as an absentee landlord. He said he’d found someone he feels very confident will care for the town the way it should be, and plan for the future.”
Mehdizadeh said Tuesday, July 1, that doing what Harmony needs was difficult for him because “I’m not right in the area,” and that he believes the new owners “will be a good fit. I would really like to see that (Harmony) gets to be what it should be.”
A visit to the historic ranching mini-village set in the rolling coastal hills is a step back in time to 1869, when Excelsior Cheese Factory built the town’s first creamery building. It produced up to 1,200 pounds of cheese per day.
The core of the current old dairy building, much amended through the decades, was built in 1908. In the days when cattle, cheese and butter were king, as many as 400 dairymen countywide were members of the Harmony Valley Creamery Association. Area dairies produced up to 6 tons of butter and 3,000 pounds of cheese daily.
More recently, Harmony has been known for its listed population, famously and perpetually consistent at 18.
Other wry town wrinkles include a Maine Coon cat once proclaimed to be town mayor and former owner George Meyer’s legendary “Doo Dah” parade. With nowhere to go in the one-block burg, the entries stayed in place while spectators circled the parade.
Harmony is currently home to Harmony Glassworks, Painted Sky Recording Studios, the Harmony Café and Harmony Pottery, there since 1973. All are expected to stay.
An intimate (seats for 42, and an additional 20 can stand) town wedding chapel with a hand-carved entry is rented out from time to time.
A separate winery on the hill, not included in the sale, overlooks the “downtown” area.
The buyers’ priorities for Harmony include maintaining the rustic atmosphere and charm, and retaining the focus as an artists’ community. They also want to honor dairying history of Harmony and the area.
Ventures that could be expanded or added, the new owner said, include fine dining, working artists, an operating dairy farm, artisan cheese shop, ice cream parlor and museums, plus more community and charity events.
And some in the town, including Wells, adamantly want the U.S. Postal Service to reopen the historic branch that opened in Harmony in 1914 and closed in April 2008.
Vander Horst said anyone wanting more information on Harmony can call Wells at 927-1028.