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Bunch of Burgs on Virtual Auction Block

Six towns go on EBay after sale of another. 'Younger blood' is needed, says one owner.

March 02, 2003|Emily Gurnon | Special to The Times

Taking a lead from the sale of the Northern California town of Bridgeville, a spate of small-town owners have recently listed their properties on the Internet auction service EBay.

Six towns were listed for sale last week on the Web site, including two along the same rural highway as Bridgeville, the burg whose December auction generated hundreds of bids and that sold for more than double the minimum price. That deal is expected to close this week for less than the final bid of $1.78 million, its agent said.

Two California towns -- Carlotta in Humboldt County and Platina in Shasta County -- were joined on EBay by Langtry, Texas; Sackville, Canada; and two ghost towns in Nevada: Deeth and New Pass. The listings for Platina, Deeth and another abandoned mining town, Danville, Nev., expired last week.

"We're getting about a thousand hits a day," said Sandra Spalding, the real estate agent for the Carlotta deal. "It's just amazing." As yet, there are no bids, though there have been about half a dozen serious inquiries, she said.

Bridgeville's success persuaded Carlotta owners Angelo and Sharon Batini to turn to the Internet to market their 33 acres and almost everything on it.

"I'm 70 years old, and I just don't have the ambition to work like I used to," said Angelo, who made his living as a general contractor. "What it needs is younger blood to buy the town and build a hardware store" or some other development, "and make something of it," he said.

Located about half an hour south of Eureka, the don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it town is on the auction block for nearly $1.07 million. Included in the price are a post office, a combination restaurant and bar, four houses, an old firehouse, a four-stall horse stable, riverfront property, a backhoe, two loaders and a dump truck.

Carlotta is in "one of the most beautiful places on the planet," touts the EBay posting.

But like many of its neighbors -- rural towns with names like Mad River, Peanut and Hayfork -- Carlotta has seen better days.

The Batinis bought their land in 1995 from now-defunct Carlotta Lumber Co., the remains of which lie scattered on the property in heaps of concrete and metal. The few remaining buildings are aging and need paint. The year he bought the land, Batini also watched his historic Carlotta Hotel -- which he bought in 1977 -- go up in flames.

Most of the 900 residents who call Carlotta home -- all but a handful of whom live outside the town limits yet use its post office -- travel to Eureka or nearby Fortuna, seven miles from the town, for basic supplies. Carlotta has no grocery store, no hardware store and no feed store for the ranch-heavy area.

Pacific Lumber Co. still operates its sawmill in Carlotta, and the town is flanked by the mountains that supply the redwoods and Douglas fir that allowed the area to prosper.

The hamlet's success in its heyday was due in part to the fact that it was on the railroad line that connected Eureka, the region's biggest city, with points south. The town, like much of Humboldt County, had a thriving sheep-raising industry. And the 26-room hotel drew well-heeled visitors who traveled from Eureka to hunt or fish.

"What really hurt Carlotta was when the wonderful old hotel burned down," said Ray Hillman, a Eureka historian. "That was the heart of Carlotta. It's really never been the same."

Meanwhile, "the railroad jobs and the mill jobs dwindled away, and people moved away, and the houses deteriorated or were torn down and the stores closed," Hillman said.

Yvonne Mills, who owns Platina -- population 60 -- said she thought of trying her luck on EBay when she read all the hoopla about Bridgeville. "I got the idea from them," said Mills, 48. "I thought maybe everybody's wanting a town right now."

Platina, like Bridgeville and Carlotta, lies along California 36, a winding highway that stretches across much of the northern part of the state.

Mills bought the town -- meaning its store, tavern, several rentals, post office, water system and 66 acres -- 19 years ago, and has run everything herself ever since.

"It's been a lot of hard work," she said. Now that her daughter is ready for college, Mills plans to relax a bit.

Since listing Platina for $600,000 on Jan. 29, she said, she has been inundated with calls, mostly from the media. A serious potential buyer visited Wednesday from the San Francisco area and hopes to close the deal, she said.

Billed as a "historical" town, Platina -- named for the platinum that miners discovered there -- was established in 1902 as Noble Station. It lies 70 miles east of Bridgeville and about 45 miles west of Redding.

The EBay postings were a spur-of-the-moment decision for the owners of Platina and Carlotta.

Batini said he has never been on the Internet, and he had second thoughts after putting his town up for sale.

Life is slow in Carlotta, and he's happy with that.

"You ever do anything where you get regrets after it?" he asked.

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