Marvin Davis to Mission Viejo Company

22,000 Acres, a vast ranch to be transformed into a thriving "New Town" of Highlands Ranch

  • 1976:  Lawrence Phipps Jr. dies.  He was the last Highlands Ranch Mansion homeowner, having owned the property since 1937
  • 1977:  Marvin Davis & others (Highlands Venturers) acquire the ranch from the Phipps Estate.
  • 1978:  Filming for "Centennial, the Miniseries" occurs at the Mansion and grounds
  • 1978: Mission Viejo Company acquires an option on the property now known as Highlands Ranch.
  • 1979: The Board of Douglas County Commissioners approves Planned Community District Zoning for the property, and Mission Viejo Company purchases the property.
  • 1980: Construction of the first phase of Highlands Ranch begins.
  • 1981:  The first home is sold and residents move in.  The FOUNDING of Highlands Ranch!


1978 Filming of Centennial, the Miniseries at the Mansion

It was during the transition time between the Phipps Estate,  Marvin Davis, and the Mission Viejo purchase, that Hollywood came to Highlands Ranch!

Centennial was a 12-episode TV miniseries that aired on NBC from October 1978 to February 1979. It is the fictional story of Centennial, Colorado, from 1795 to the 1970s. and was based on the 1974 novel of the same name by Pulitzer prize-winning author James A. Michener.  Various actors and actresses were filmed here, such as Lynne Redgrave and Raymond Burr.  While only a small portion of the miniseries was filmed at the Highlands Ranch Mansion, it adds to the glamour and the story of the Mansion, as well as leaving a living legacy in Highlands Ranch thru the use of "Centennial" and "Venneford Ranch" as names of streets and businesses.    Watch the YouTube program about the filming of Centennial here at the Mansion:










  • Mission Viejo Company (MVC) purchased 640 acres in Aurora, CO around 1972.  The housing community, modeled after their success in California, was initially only modestly successful, as the housing needs in Colorado were a bit different than what they built in California.  By 1975 they had found their groove in Aurora.

  • Following Lawrence Phipps II’s death in 1976, the Phipps Estate sold the 22,000 acre Phipps Highlands Ranch south of Littleton, CO for $12 million to a Denver entrepreneur, Marvin Davis, who formed a Venture Company to market the ranch. 

    The local Mission Viejo Aurora manager, Pat Farrell, heard of this, and notified the California management team.  Inquiries were made, and the company decided to seriously explore the viability of developing a master planned community south of Littleton.

    The company took an option in 1978 and proceeded to work on a development plan, to secure the necessary approvals, especially from Douglas County. The company purchased the Phipps Highlands Ranch in early 1979 for around $26 million, and proceeded to refine the development plan and start planning the infrastructures needed.


Mission Viejo Development Plan 1979, to transform the 22,000 acre ranch into a "master planned community" of thousands of residents.


James Toepfer, the first President of the Colorado Division of Mission Viejo

Considered to be the "Father of Highlands Ranch" 

In early 1980’s several people were hired or were transferred from California.  The ranch would continue to be a functioning cattle ranch for many years while development occurred. The first interchange/entrance to the New Town of Highlands Ranch was at County Line Road and Broadway.



In addition to being the master planning community manager, Mission Viejo was the exclusive home builder for many years.  The first homes were completed in the fall of 1981, near the intersection of Broadway and Northridge Parkway.  Three model homes were offered in the first filing. 

Home sales were initially slowed by very high interest rates, and the public’s perception that this development was very far out there from anything else in the south Denver area.  Gradually services were added; banks, shopping centers, convenience center, recreation centers, parks, post office, schools, and churches.

The community grew steadily thru the 1980’s.  In the late 1980’s  MVC decided to sell land to other home builders.  Housing growth accelerated  rapidly. This continued thru the 1990’s where MVC’s  parent company, Phillip Morris, decided to sell MVC.




Click HERE for HR Herald article regarding the Highlands Ranch Then and Now program about early Mission Viejo days at the ranch.