Family business honored for 100-year presence in Capitola
When the 1906 earthquake destroyed James Brown’s automobile dealership in San Francisco, Brown made a decision that would have a lasting impact on the City of Capitola. He retired from the automobile business, moved to Capitola and eventually founded Brown Ranch in 1911. Starting out as a berry farm, Brown Ranch became a world leader in the production of begonia bulbs by the 1950s. Today the bulb growing operation has moved to Moss Landing; however, the Brown family operates a shopping center, Brown Ranch Marketplace, on the old Capitola ranch property, and they continue to donate begonia blooms from their fields to the Capitola Begonia Festival each year.
This Friday, the Capitola Chamber of Commerce will be honoring Brown Ranch with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The award will be given to Barclay and Todd Brown and the rest of the Brown family at the Annual Community Awards Celebration at the Seacliff Inn.
Barclay Brown, the grandson of James Brown, started working for the family business in 1942 by picking weeds out of the begonia fields at the age of 10. “We think of ourselves as a farming family,” he says. “Like many farm families we’re fortunate that the younger generation tends to like the idea of staying in the business, so the present chief operating officer is fourth generation, and we even have people in the fifth generation working in our business.”
Barclay left Capitola to attend college at Cornell and then to serve in the Navy; however, he started working for the family business again immediately when he returned. This was in 1956 and he continued to work for the business until approximately 12 years ago. Barclay has seen many changes during that time. The crops have changed and the City of Capitola has doubled in size, thanks in part to Brown Ranch, he says, which annexed its 100-acre property to the city.
Barclay is modest about Brown Ranch’s legacy. “We like our business and we feel fortunate that we’ve be able to make it last that long,” he says. “I’ve always felt that we were very lucky that [James Brown] made the decision to start farming in Capitola because it seems to me to be a wonderful place to live and have a business.”
The Capitol-Soquel Chamber of Commerce Annual Community Awards Celebration at the Seacliff Inn takes place March 25, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $35/person. Call 475-6522 for reservations.