Editor’s note: This is the final in a two-part series on the history of Mountain Park Ranch.
In 1982 the man whose influence shaped Mountain Park Ranch more than anyone before or since arrived on the scene. Ron Lane’s experience directing planning and development of a 6,500-acre property in Simi Valley, Calif., made him the ideal man for the job of overseeing development of Mountain Park Ranch.
At the time Williams Field Road ended at 32nd Street and the only life west of that were Goldman’s Dairy farm and International Harvester’s Proving Grounds (future site of The Foothills and Club West). Of Gates’ junk yard, Ray Road’s most prominent feature, just east of the property, Lane thought, “If this place ever develops he’s got a lot of junk to clear out!” When the junk yard was sold in 1994, it took almost a year to clear the property.
Two conditions of Mountain Park Ranch’s development were that storm-water runoff beyond the project’s borders not exceed that of pre-development, and that no construction occur beyond 10 percent of a foothill’s slope. Under Lane’s oversight most of the land’s natural drainage channels were left open and lined with rip rap (boulders and crushed rock designed to slow the speed of rushing water and minimize erosion). Lane paved 8-foot-wide curvilinear recreation paths along the channels, landscaping to provide a park-like feel. Doing so turned a negative — overhead power lines which cross the property — into a positive, by creating attractive recreation trails. A few small lakes with fountains surrounded by park-like grass and benches were strategically located in the drainage channels. Attractive signage greeted motorists at the project’s key entry points.
The location of the community’s two parks, Sun Ray and Vista Canyon, was based on water flow. As flood-retention basins, each park is designed to fill with water and disperse it at a measured rate. “I wanted a trail system there.” said Lane. “Just having the mountains wasn’t going to do it. We did a substantial amount of landscaping so that it’s not just dirt but a continual park-like environment.”
In implementing A. Wayne Smith’s master plan Lane made one significant change: Tightening up Ray Road as it looped west toward Chandler Boulevard. Lane created a custom-home feel in several non-custom subdivisions using zigzag common-area walls and curvilinear sidewalks wherever possible. “I didn’t want to have all these mile-long walls and bland-looking streets.” he said.
Prominent Valley architect Vern Swaback designed the community recreation centers as well as crafting builders’ architectural guidelines. He and Lane worked together in designing guidelines for the community’s custom subdivisions, such as Canyon Reserve.
Jan Baratta, former Genstar engineer who worked with Lane, credits him for the development’s unparalleled livability. “It was his baby and he kept tight control of the reins. Ron knew precisely what he wanted and didn’t value-engineer things out of the plan. He didn’t cut corners. Drive through the community today and you’re not going to find better infrastructure. The drainage facilities still look brand new. There is a quality look to everything.”
For his part, Lane reflects, “I came from Irvine (Calif.), and I knew what it was like there: Everything worked. I thought that there’s no reason this can’t be the same. I wanted a desert palate and if I didn’t like a particular plant for the palate, even though I had approved it earlier, we would rip it out.” Laughing, he said, “there was a budget for landscaping but I made the budget. You don’t sell houses with bare right of ways!
“As I was planning the 6,500 acres (in California), if I had a design or construction issue I’d simply drive around Irvine and ask myself, ‘How did they do it?’ In Irvine there are centers with swimming pools and tennis courts: that’s where I got the idea for Mountain Park Ranch,” he said, referring to its three community recreation centers.
A grand opening in fall 1984 involved the development’s initial three builders: Coventry Homes, Pulte and Wood Brothers. The first homeowners, Lorraine and Bill Walkley, moved into the community’s first subdivision in April 1985. Sheep outnumbered people, with winter pasturing the main activity on the land on which Safeway at Chandler Boulevard at 40th Street would eventually be built.
“Each builder had its own sales office and model homes. We’d advertise every Sunday, naming all the builders along with lot prices. From the first house I tracked all the houses sold: we averaged 45 sold per month for 9 1/2 years, and were way ahead of the competition.
With more than 7,000 homes, apartments, condos and businesses, Mountain Park Ranch has won numerous awards for its design, water conservation and quality of life. Lane, who retired upon leaving the project in 1993, credits the homeowners association and Executive Director Jim Welch with excellent stewardship. “You can do everything right, but if you don’t maintain and keep things up the newness fades and starts to look old.”
Regarding his meticulous attention to detail Lane said, “When you go to Disneyland it’s clean. It’s organized. Attention to detail has been paid. So when we started I wanted it to be, not a Disneyland, but I wanted it to have the feeling — that there’s a thought for everything. That it works and that it’s clean. You have to have that aim.”
On this, the 30th anniversary of groundbreaking on Mountain Park Ranch, one man’s lofty aim continues resonating throughout the community to this day.
• Marty Gibson is a local history writer. Contact him at email@example.com.