James A. Brown, who moved to Capitola after retiring from the car and buggy business, founded the Brown Ranch in 1911. Initially Mr. Brown planted several acres of different types of berries. He also became interested in the culture of various flower bulbs. By 1917 the Brown Ranch had purchased a registered herd of Guernsey cattle and developed a dairy. Retail stores called Moo Cows were opened in Capitola, Santa Cruz and Watsonville by 1927.James and Rura Brown c. 1911
Moo Cow ice cream was carried on cruise ships around the world and “Golden Guernsey” milk products were supplied to the Southern Pacific Railroad for their dining cars.
During the period of growth of the dairy, the bulb and seed departments also expanded. In 1932 James Brown died at the age of 49 and Alan and Worth Brown, James’ sons, took over operations.
By the 1950s the dairy had been completely closed and the third generation, Barclay, Todd, and Joel Brown, joined the family business. The firm was now the recognized world leader in the production of tuberous begonia bulbs. In 1954 the Capitola Businessmen’s Association inaugurated the First Annual Capitola Begonia Festival and proclaimed Capitola to be the “Begonia Capital of The World.”
By 1960 Worth had broken new ground by marketing a complete line of package begonia bulbs to national chain stores. Woolworth’s was the first chain to try bulbs and Sears followed a few years later. The Brown Bulb Ranch became the largest distributor of bulbs to retailers west of the Mississippi River.
By the time Allan and Worth retired from their work, the company had hundreds of employees, with a distribution warehouse and sales force in Seattle and a sales office in Los Angeles. At this time a decision was made to concentrate more energy on the production of bulbs and less on the distribution of other growers’ products.The distribution operation was sold to an eastern firm and the Brown Ranch changed the name of its bulb growing operation to Golden State Bulb Growers.Moo Cow Ice Cream Box
In 1986 Golden State Bulb Growers moved its main offices, warehouses, and greenhouses from Capitola to just outside of Watsonville. The fourth generation of the family now operates the business. Nolan Brown heads the shipping department, Worth C. Brown (grandson of Worth A. Brown) has office responsibilities, and Justin Brown oversees the growing of the crops on nine separate ranches throughout California and Baja, Mexico. Justin supervises the production of 26 crops on over 1,000 acres, with the largest portion of the land being devoted to colored Calla lilies.
Worth Brown with dairy cattle
The Brown family continues to donate the begonia blooms from its fields each year to the Capitola Begonia Festival. And while the begonias are no longer grown at Capitola, the family continues its presence there with a shopping center built on the old ranch property. Brown Ranch Marketplace is located next to the Capitola Mall, which itself is on land which was previously part of the Brown Ranch. Barclay Brown, Andrea Rivers, his daughter, and Bob Rivers, his son-in-law, who is general manager of the center, developed this retail complex which features Trader Joe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and 24 other fine shops and restaurants.
Brown Ranch Marketplace opened in mid 1992, and has since become one of the premier shopping centers in Santa Cruz County. This is due to the prime location next to the Capitola Mall and the quality shops, exceptional services and international restaurants located at Brown Ranch Marketplace.
Stop by today and see history in the making.