Historic Milpitas ranch sells to nature nonprofit for $12M

Liang’s Green Earth Foundation buys nearly 200-acre estate, the last piece of one of California’s ranchos

Green Earth Foundation’s Charles Liang with Rancho Higuera
Green Earth Foundation’s Charles Liang with Rancho Higuera (Sotheby’s International Realty, Supermicro)

Liang’s Green Earth Foundation, a nonprofit studying ways to increase forestation worldwide, paid $12 million to acquire a nearly 200-acre ranch in Milpitas that had been owned by the same family since the 1870s.

Fremont-based Liang’s paid roughly $62,000 an acre to purchase the 192-acre property consisting of two adjoining parcels at 1402 El Camino Higuera and 859 London Drive, according to public records.

It was only the second time the site had traded over the past 150 years. Milpitas pioneer Henry Curtner purchased it in the 1870s as one of many deals that would help him amass an 8,000-acre real estate portfolio, according to past reporting by The Wall Street Journal. His family sold off chunks of that portfolio over time, with the ranch eventually being passed down to a trust under the will of Marion Curtner Weller, Curtner’s granddaughter, according to The Journal and public records.

Curtner Weller’s grandchildren listed the ranch in 2017 for $20 million, hiring Kennedy Wilson Brokerage as its exclusive listing broker, according to The Journal. The property didn’t find any takers at that price and was eventually taken off the market. It returned in late 2019 with a new price tag of $12.8 million and a new listing broker, Sotheby’s International Realty, according to MLSListings data. Sotheby’s Sam Piffero and Aisha Krechuniak removed the ranch listing in August 2020, five months into the pandemic, and relisted it for sale about two years later, MLSListings data show.

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It sold last week for $800,000 below its listing price and 40 percent under what the sellers initially sought for the property in 2017.

None of the parties involved in the sale responded to requests for comment. The buyer was co-founded by Charles Liang and his wife, Sara Liu, who also co-founded computer server and component maker Supermicro, among Silicon Valley’s largest manufacturers, according to Silicon Valley Business Journal data. The family trust that sold the ranch was managed by First Republic Bank’s real estate asset management group, public records show. Timothy Blake of eXp Realty was the buyer’s agent in the deal, according to Zillow.

The property is the last piece of one of California’s original ranchos, Spanish land grants dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, according to online marketing materials. Called Rancho Higuera, the ranch includes a five-bedroom, five-bathroom main home totaling about 5,000 square feet that was built in 1900, according to Sotheby’s website. It’s a three-minute drive from Interstate 680’s Scott Creek exit. It comes with three smaller residences, one of which is a caretaker’s cottage; seven barns; a stable; and a nearly 5-acre pond with bass and bluegill, according to The Journal’s past reporting and marketing materials.

While the ranch is zoned to allow up to about 19 homes, the buyer’s identity makes it seem likelier that new trees rather than residences would sprout on its large swaths of vacant land. Liang’s Green Earth Foundation seeks to plant millions of trees, mainly baby ancient ones, in California and across the globe starting in the next few quarters, CEO Charles Liang said in a YouTube video uploaded in February.

Before selling the estate, its previous owners used it as a vacation home for family members, according to The Journal. The Liangs may use the property the same way, as its foundation’s address matches that of a 7-bedroom, 6.5-bathroom house in Fremont about four miles north of the ranch, according to California business registration filings and Zillow data.

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