Legacy Property: DC Ranch

Historic DC Ranch surrounds the community of the same name, where only a few decades ago men worked cattle and savored the cowboy’s life.

History of DC Ranch

From its very earliest days, the histories of Scottsdale and DC Ranch were intertwined. E.O. Brown, a businessman from Wisconsin, laid claim to the land in 1901 that would grow over two generations into 43,000-acre DC Ranch.

Brown bought the DC brand and earmark from a Dr. W.B. Crosby (Doc Crosby), who had registered it in 1885. Brown and his partner shipped their first load of cattle to California in 1910 and the brand was used on the DC range until the mid-1990s.

E.E. “Brownie” Brown succeeded his father in the operations of DC Ranch and shepherded the ranch into a new era. By the 1940’s, the cattle industry became profitable and Big Brownie, a gritty John Wayne of a man who stood way over six feet without his Stetson, had become a cattle man.

By the end of WW II, cattle ranching had changed drastically, bringing new sophistication – and big money – to the business. It was time for Big Brownie to bring in a partner with business expertise: his childhood friend, Kemper Marley grew up with the country, learning about agricultural business on family ranches in Colorado and Arizona.

With DC Ranch Company, Brownie and Kemper developed a plan to expand the operation. Brownie put up his deeded land and Kemper added cash to acquire holdings in California that the government needed as trade for the Arizona public land where the DC cattle grazed. Their deal bought them much of what is now north Scottsdale.

At its peak, the DC ran 4,000 head of cattle, including descendants of the first purebred Brahmas in Arizona, some brindled longhorns from south of the border, a few Herefords, and all possible combinations of these breeds.

Partnerships to Create DC Ranch

In the 1990s, the Marley family that owned the land and DMB formed a unique partnership. The two parties shared an interest and vision to develop the property into something special. The Marley family contributed the land and DMB agreed to oversee the creation of a thoughtfully developed community that complemented the desert surroundings.

At this same time, Scottsdale’s citizens were preparing to approve a measure to create a dedicated tax revenue stream that would provide the City the means to buy sensitive lands in the McDowell Mountains for conservation. Mayor Herb Drinkwater asked Drew Brown, DMB founding partner and chairman of the board, to hold off on developing some of the land within DC Ranch, giving the City the opportunity to purchase the mountainous parts of DC Ranch for preservation.

On a handshake deal with the Mayor, Brown agreed to sell the land if the City was able to form a trust and raise the funds to purchase the land.

In 1998, well after the formation of the McDowell Mountain Conservancy, DMB sold more than 4,600 acres in the upper Windgate Pass area to the City of Scottsdale. The sale cut DMB’s development in half, but forever stands as a testament to the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship. At completion, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve will be the nation’s largest urban land preserve, encompassing one-third of the City of Scottsdale—57 square miles—and will connect with the Tonto National Forest.

Charley Freericks, DMB President and first General Manager of DC Ranch, recalled the historic sale, “It was a profound moment for everybody. It set the boundary of DC Ranch so we knew what we had to work with forever. It was a great victory for the citizens of Scottsdale and it created an amazing natural amenity for the state of Arizona.”

The finest master planned community of its time

“DC Ranch was really an R&D laboratory for our community development business,” Freericks, described. The DMB team travelled around the country and looked around at everyone else’s work, what was working and wasn’t working.

“Our goal was to create the finest master planned community of its time,” said Drew Brown.

In the early planning stages, the company tapped into the talents of Vernon D. Swaback, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s youngest apprentices, and the principal of Swaback Partners. Swaback’s training in planning desert environments and open spaces infused and guided the thinking about how to develop DC Ranch as a residential community that would honor the Sonoran Desert.

DMB founding partner, Bennett Dorrance, laid out the challenge for the development team at the start of the community’s planning: DC Ranch needs to look like we gently laid this development on the natural property in a very respectful way; it should look like it grew out of the land.

This challenge resulted in the company pioneering ways to incorporate natural materials and to use the terrain to shape the development plan. Native stone and indigenous plants were saved and replanted. Natural water drainage and wildlife migration patterns were protected. Streets and pathways and trails followed the natural topography to preserve and dramatize land views. Constructed signs, bridges and also standards for light and home construction respected the character of the desert.

Twenty plus years later, the community continues to grow. This once thriving cattle ranch now offers residents of DC Ranch one of the most active and engaging lifestyles here in Scottsdale.

Let’s do great things together.

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