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Makers of the Promise: Rancho Mission Viejo

If You Take Good Care of the Land, It Will Take Good Care of You
--Tony Moiso

Mission Viejo is built on the western 11,000 acres of the 53,000-acre Rancho Mission Viejo, which dates back to the King of Spain. The descendants of the original landowners, the O’Neill family, still live on and operate the ranch. Three members of the family, Dick O’Neill, Jerome Moiso, and Tony Moiso, were general partners and members of the M.V. Company Board of Directors.

Richard O’Neill, born in Ireland in 1824, sailed to Boston with his family and learned the meat cutting business alongside his father. Young Richard was lured to California by the gold rush and opened a butcher shop in San Francisco. Not finding a girl to marry in San Francisco, he traveled back to Ireland, met Alice O’Neill (unrelated), married her, and came to Southern California in 1882 to manage a large cattle ranch -- Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores -- for the Nevada Bank of San Francisco.

Richard O’Neill eventually became the owner of the Ranch. James L. Flood provided the money for its purchase, and on a mere handshake, agreed to give Richard half-ownership of the Ranch if he continued to manage it successfully. Through hard work, good management, and profit sharing, Richard acquired half ownership in 1907.

O’Neill’s son Jerome managed the cattle ranch from 1907 until 1926, when both he and James Flood, Jr. died. Jerome O’Neill bequeathed his portion of the Ranch to his sister, Mary Baumgartner, and his brother, Richard Jr. In 1941, the land was split three ways: the southern portion went to the Flood family, the central section to the Baumgartners, and the northern part, known as Rancho Mission Viejo, to Richard O’Neill and his family.

Richard J. O’Neill and his wife, Marguerite “Daisy” O’Neill, had two children: Richard O’Neill (Dick), and Alice O’Neill Moiso, whose later became Alice O’Neill Avery. Anthony R. (Tony) Moiso, grandson of the original Richard O’Neill, runs the ranch today.

In 1963, the Ranch family (Dick O’Neill and Alice O’Neill Avery) decided to sell 11,000 acres for the first non-agricultural development. The Ranch owners insisted on selling only to buyers who would respect the land and preserve its environmentally sensitive heritage. When the Mission Viejo Company was formed, Dick O’Neill, Jerome Moiso and Tony Moiso were on the board of directors to ensure compatible uses and quality, controlled growth.

The O’Neills became very involved as equal partners -- general partners. They kept a close eye on the plan and its implementation to ensure that the development took full advantage of the natural beauty of the Ranch. They still had 6,000 head of cattle on their ranch, and they donated vast amounts of land to the county for parks: O’Neill Regional Park and Casper Wilderness Park.

--written by Robert Breton, former Mayor of Mission Viejo


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