A group of investors just bought a unique vignette of history for $1.4 million — a 22-building, Old West ghost town in California.
Called Cerro Gordo, which means “fat hill” in Spanish, the more than 150-year-old town is located about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, 400 miles southeast of San Francisco and 200 miles west of Las Vegas. It’s situated near Death Valley National Park on the edge of the Inyo Mountains in Owens Valley.
The purchase was led by two young entrepreneurs: Jon Bier, 37, owner of boutique public relations agency Jack Taylor PR in New York and Los Angeles, and Brent Underwood, 29, owner of hostel HK Austin in Austin, Texas, and a partner at marketing firm Brass Check.
Bier was instantly struck by the 300-acre property.
“As we were driving up the mountain range to get to the property for the first time, I think we all kind of had the feeling like this already is significant. I feel like I am going to be here a lot in my life. It felt like home already,” he tells CNBC Make It.
When they arrived, walking through the 19th century mining town "was overwhelming," Bier says.
The houses are all decorated in period style. "There [are] ... multiple pianos … antiques everywhere … gramophones and ice boxes. And tables that were set. I mean … chandeliers," says Bier.
The town's history dates back more than a century and a half.
In 1865, a man named Pablo Flores discovered silver and started mining and smelting operations near the town. By 1867, word of the silver at Cerro Gordo spread, “bringing flocks of new prospectors,” the website for the mining town says. In the years that followed, lead and ore were also mined in the town. A temporary drying up of the town’s water, litigation over ownership of the mine, a scarcity of ore in the mine, and falling lead and silver prices all combined to largely shut down the town in the late 1870s, the website says. In the first decade of the 1900s, however, Cerro Gordo was revived thanks to advances in technology for processing ore and the discovery of zinc carbonates in the area.
Bier and Underwood, who purchased the town with several other investors, will likely turn the place into a retreat center for conferences, workshop events and film shoots. They will also keep Cerro Gordo open for public tours “for the time being,” Bier tells CNBC Make It. They are still developing their final vision for the old town, he says.
Cerro Gordo initially went up for sale on June 2 and the list price was $925,000. Bier and Underwood's offer was accepted on June 20th and the deal closed on Friday, July 13th (perhaps apropos for a ghost town). Rasmuson of Bishop Real Estate Rasmuson & Associates tells CNBC Make It there were other offers for the town that were actually higher than the $1.4 million the investors paid, but the group led by Bier and Underwood won out against rival bidders because they intend to respect the town's heritage.
“The sellers appreciated the historical preservation the buyers presented,” Rasmuson says.
The sellers wish to remain anonymous but it was sold by a trust of brothers who had inherited the property, Rasmuson tells CNBC Make It. The sellers’ parents had lived on the property from the 1980s through the early 2000s, when they passed, Rasmuson tells CNBC Make It.
“The hotel and salon were open previously but have not been open since the owners' passing,” Rasmuson tells CNBC Make It.
There are “numerous habitable residences on the property,” some with electricity and septic tanks, and a caretaker lived on the property after the sellers’ parents passed, Rasmuson says.
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