Marsha Mason never intended to be a farmer when she purchased a rural estate in Abiquiú at the outset of the 1990s. But she thrived doing it, getting her hands dirty. And over the next 20 years, the actress — best known for her Golden Globe-winning portrayals in Cinderella Liberty and The Goodbye Girl — turned the property into a bustling certified organic operation specializing in medicinal herbs.
Mason’s time on her Double M Farm is at an end. The 247-acre property bisected by the Rio Chama has been sold. The transaction closed Jan. 31, after the property had been listed for more than six years.
“This sale is a big transition after 20 years there,” Mason said in an interview. “But I’m not too sad because the people who purchased it want to continue to use it as a farm, and they have great respect for the land. When they saw the property, they got the whole idea and how special it is.”
The estate originally was placed on the market for $11 million, but the new new owners paid $6.2 million.
Listing agent Don DeVito of Santa Fe Properties said the estate probably took so long to sell because of the recession. “I began listing it in September 2008, just before the fall of AIG and Lehman Brothers. Our world just changed on Sept. 15, 2008. We’ve all weathered an incredible time.
“I think in normal times, the farm would have sold a lot sooner. There were several people who had interest, and we were under contract before.”
Mason’s fruitful sojourn in Abiquiú began when she was thinking she needed to get out of Hollywood. She was familiar with New Mexico because her first husband, Gary Campbell, was a native. She lived in Santa Fe with her second husband, the playwright/screenwriter Neil Simon, with whom she was married from 1973 to 1981.
“I had a second home with Neil in La Tierra Nueva, and when we divorced I toyed with the idea of keeping it,” Mason said in a telephone interview, “but I was slightly concerned about being landlocked.
“When I was thinking of leaving L.A., I came to Santa Fe and looked at property with friends. Then Shirley MacLaine called me and said she’d seen this property in Abiquiú. I visited it, and I liked it a lot.”
After purchasing the parcel for about $1 million in 1992, Mason remodeled a decrepit, existing building to create what she calls the Art Barn. She lived there before building her house, a 6,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, adobe arranged around a courtyard.
The house was modeled on an Argentinian estancia, specifically on one she saw in a book about that style of estate.
“I had spent a month in a farmhouse in Italy, and I fell in love with the basic idea, which is very similar to Santa Fe — an adobe with lintels, tiles and whitewashed walls. The basic design I lifted straight out of that book, and then I added elements from Spain, Mexico and Portugal.”
The project was a collaboration involving a design by Santa Fe architect Theodore Waddell, fine-tuning by SMPC Architects of Albuquerque and construction by J.M. Evans Construction of Santa Fe.
The next step in her Abiquiú project was setting up a working farm. She had advice from permaculturist Scott Pittman on the layout of the fields, and she added a series of ponds, for both practical and aesthetic reasons.
“I put in three ponds, including one off of an acequia and one in the bosque for the birds, the coyotes, and the elk and deer,” she said.
She started work on what would eventually be a certified organic farm.
“During a treatment with my Chinese doctor in L.A., he said if I was ever to decide to grow anything, I should do medicinal herbs because they’re very hard to find.
“Emigdio Ballon, who is now head of Tesuque Farming, became my grower. I was interested in biodynamic farming because I had read Rudolf Steiner, and I found out about this whole philosophy of farming that is done in Europe on his principles.”
She started out selling fresh herbs to Daniel Gagnon at Herbs Etc. in Santa Fe, then she developed her own product line with Mitch Coven of Vitality Works in Albuquerque. Her first incentive was to create a salve for her farmwork hands, using herbs from her own fields. The salve was the start of Resting in the River Organic Farm & Natural Products.
Her company (www.restingintheriver.com) offers healing hydration mists, herbal wellness sprays and body butter — the latter is made with the flowers and leaves of spilanthes, calendula, chaparral, St. John’s Wort, arnica and aloe, as well as shea nut butter, olive oil and vitamin E.
Besides the website, Mason sells her products at retailers including Vitamin Cottage and Whole Foods in Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Albuquerque.
She will maintain her Resting in the River business and hopes to buy organic plant ingredients from the new owners.
“Of course, they have to get up and running. They have some exciting plans, possibly growing quinoa as well as organic alfalfa. And if it doesn’t work with them, there are other growers that have volunteered to grow for us.”
Laurie Hilton, Sotheby’s International Realty, brought the buyers to the transaction. Their names are withheld because of a confidentiality agreement. Gregg Antonsen, qualifying broker at Sotheby’s in Santa Fe, only revealed that the new owners are “an American husband and wife.”
Realtor DeVito, who worked with Mason to market her property since 2008, said, “Marsha started with nothing, just idle land, and she created this incredible oasis. She was very open and inviting to the community. She has always opened the property to the Abiquiu Studio Tour, offering about 10 artists space to display their work.
“She’s a real New Mexican. She has just done a lot for our greater community,” she said.
Mason, a native of St. Louis, had an early job as a go-go dancer in New York. Soon after that, the aspiring actress was cast for the soap Love of Life.
Since then, she has starred in more than a dozen films — she is a four-time Academy Award nominee — and nearly 30 television movies and shows. She was nominated for an Emmy for her appearances on the TV comedy Frasier. She is currently in the cast of the ABC series The Middle, starring as the mother Patricia Heaton’s character.
Among her many theater credits are The Prisoner of Second Avenue, with Richard Dreyfus, at the Royal Haymarket Theatre in London (1999); and Steel Magnolias on Broadway (2005).
Asked about the next step in her evolution, Mason said, “I feel like I want to really focus in on acting and directing. I’m going to direct Chapter Two at the Bucks County Playhouse this spring. It’s kind of wonderful because when Neil wrote Come Blow Your Horn and Barefoot in the Park, they both started at the Bucks County Playouse.”
She did The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife at the playouse last summer.
Mason will serve alongside Cyndi Lauper and Joan Rivers as honorary chairwomen of the 28th Annual Night of a Thousand Gowns on March 29. “I just said yes,” Mason responded when asked about the event. “I’m not even sure what I’m doing.”
The Night of a Thousand Gowns is a black-tie dinner dance fundraiser for New York’s LGBT community.
She will introduce, and roast, Richard Dreyfus (her co-star in The Goodbye Girl) in a March gala for the scholarship fund established by New York restaurateur Elaine Kaufman. And in July, she will help break in a new theater in Santa Barbara, playing Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped.
Mason has a small house in Santa Fe, but there is no garden. She’s going to need some kind of farming therapy after all those years working with the soil.
“Exactly,” she said, laughing. “Either that or a lot of pot.”
Contact Paul Weideman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been amended to reflect the following correction:
A story on the sale of Marsha Mason’s house in Abiquiú on Page A-1 in the Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, edition incorrectly identified the firm that handled the construction. It was J.D. Evans Construction of Santa Fe, not Campbell and Steele LLC.