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Saddling Up

An Orange County cowboy…

Cows roam the open hills of San Juan Capistrano.

Learn more about Rancho Mission Viejo
and the history of the California cowboy
on some of Tony Moiso’s favorite websites.
::  ranchomissionviejo.com
::  cowboyethics.com

The sun has come out again for Tony Moiso, the self-effacing gentleman rancher, unabashed cowboy, faithful donor, loyal friend, and considerate employer who holds the reins of his family’s iconic Rancho Mission Viejo.

With the clouds lifting on the punishing six-year real estate depression, Moiso has pumped new life and energy into long-held passions beyond his storied devotion to his family.

At 73, he recently co-hosted the boisterous and nostalgic 50th anniversary of the Portola Riders. The four-day stag celebration of friendship and cowboy culture revolves around a horse and camping trip across his ranch’s stunning open lands east of San Juan Capistrano.  

The annual gathering reflects Moiso’s cowboy heart and soul: His Swallows bar opens to the participants at 6 a.m. in advance of a special Mass at the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s basilica to bless the riders, past and present. Baxter Black, the renowned cowboy poet laureate, reads original verse. Legendary cowboy singer/songwriter Dave Stamey performs. Cowboy games and contests ensue. A bar wagon is ever-present.

The riders have raised saddlebags of cash through the years for the historic Mission and the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.

Moiso rode all four days.

Also last month, Moiso helped restart the venerable Gentlemen’s Haberdashery that benefits his beloved Sacred Heart Sisters of Orange County. The Sisters operate the Heart of Jesus Retreat Center in Santa Ana to provide care and spiritual enrichment for children.  

Through the years, the Sisters have blessed their Catholic benefactor with prayers and lit candles, especially during the toughest times in the ‘90s when Moiso almost lost the company.  

He and Melinda, his wife of 50 years, don’t forget.

And next month, after 13 years of comprehensive planning and waiting for the right moment, his vision for the remaining 23,000 acres of the ranch will begin to reveal itself. This is Orange County’s last frontier in the rolling hills, valleys and peaks 2.5 miles east of downtown San Juan Capistrano.

For those, like Moiso, who cherish the history and traditions of this land, 17,000 acres will be protected from development forever. Cattle will still run. Avocados and lemons will be grown in abundance. A camp for cowboy pursuits will endure. Sensitive habitat will be protected. New parkland for public enjoyment will be created.     

For those, also like Moiso, who believe that living the ranch life in the breathtaking surroundings of inland south Orange County is both a joy and a privilege, the company’s last master planned community will be irresistible.

“Our ranching heritage is an important part of California’s history,” Moiso says at his ranch-style headquarters, and in an office filled with a lifetime of cowboy memorabilia.  

He punctuates his rich stories with laughter and humble caveats that he was “blessed,” “fortunate” and “lucky” at key moments growing up to explore and better appreciate his family’s ranch. The cowboy experience he embraced came with it.

“Saving the integrity of the ranch has been my primary goal,” he says. “Our family has owned it and nurtured it for 131 years. It’s a great joy to be able to hang on to the ride. I also wanted to demonstrate to my 96-year-old mother and my late uncle that we weren’t going to pave over what remains of it.”  

The initial community of Sendaro will reflect the lessons learned from the company that created the groundbreaking large-scale, master-planned community of Mission Viejo, followed by Rancho Santa Margarita and Ladera Ranch.

Squint 25 years into the future, and you’ll see self-contained villages tucked into adjacent valleys that incorporate homes, retail and employment centers, schools, parks, and recreation facilities.  

The housing palate will be (what else?) ranch- and Santa Barbara-style.  
Cowboys don’t do Italian.

Forty percent of the homes will be in separate enclaves restricted to the 55+ generation. It’s a giant bet that aging but active boomers – already a rising share of home ownership in America – can be enticed to leave their apartments or cash out of their larger homes for the safety, warmer climate and energy of single-story dwellings that revolve around an amenity-filled clubhouse.

Moiso believes this balanced land use plan will stand the test of time, and ultimately will be appreciated by those who covet his open space and those who wish to live within it.  

In 50 years he has celebrated the bountiful good times and been scarred by the inevitable painful downturns, leaving him more careful, measured and risk-sensitive.

For the time being, he believes the housing upturn is real, and should be sustained until something beyond his control inevitably snuffs it out, and he and his loyal employees hunker down in hopeful prayer, waiting to catch the next upturn.

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