Christmas Valley is an unincorporated area in Lake County, Oregon. It has a population of 749 and was named after nearby Christmas Lake. The town didn’t exist until 1961 when the M. Penn Phillips Development Company bought 90,000 acres there. Penn Phillips was a veteran developer who specialized in creating new communities on desert terrain. In a 1959 Time magazine article, Phillips claimed to have sold more parcels of land (around 100,000) than any man alive.
His development company quickly built 30 miles of roads, 15 homes, a motel, an airstrip, a 40-acre experimental farm, and an artificial lake. The developer then began offering free plane trips from California for prospective buyers.
Penn Phillips was charismatic and the picture he painted of the future Christmas Valley was so inviting that 90% of his land sold within three months. He alternately described the area as ideal for farming, as a retirement mecca, and as a small town with a vibrant old-fashioned Main Street worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. He also preached that real estate investments were a great hedge against inflation.
What was not well-known in 1961 is that Mr. Phillips started the Christmas Valley project after his California business license was suspended. That suspension cited his company for engaging in “substantial misrepresentation in land sales and failure to exercise reasonable control over sales personnel.”
By 1963, the town’s infrastructure was complete but only 203 people lived there. Most residents were surveyors, road builders, or other employees of the Phillips Company. The community’s goal of 5,000 people by 1965 was unattainable. Penn Phillips abandoned the development in 1973, at the age of 86.
I know about Christmas Valley because after my father died, we discovered he owned land there. No one knows why he bought it. He faithfully paid the $30 property taxes for many years, but never saw the property. His parcel is in an undeveloped area surrounded by sand dunes and has a negligible market value.
What’s the moral of this story? Do thorough research and don’t get caught up in a developer’s hype. Hire a knowledgeable Realtor® to help you understand the pros and cons of buying in particular areas. And remember, real estate doesn’t come with a “return or exchange” policy.