When Frances Ellingwood, the matriarch of the Big Red Barn and its more than 50-year-old flea market, died in March 2018, two men each claimed to be the true heir to the property, estimated then to be in the $8 million-$10 million range. Her boyfriend, Ken McPhail, claimed he possessed a will that left everything to him, while her friend and manager, Manuel Delgadillo, said he had the true will leaving the property to him. They’ve been fighting in court ever since, until recently when the two decided to settle and split up what’s left of the estate.
What’s left is far less than $10 million; they may only wind up splitting around $3 million, Delgadillo says. Over the last two years the property has been in the hands of a receiver, Sandra Hill, an outside manager appointed by the Monterey County Superior Court. Hill has been focused on spending money to clean up a decade-old fight between Monterey County officials and Stagecoach Territory, Inc., Ellingwood’s company, over the lack of restrooms and other costly improvement issues. Hill also had to contend with paying back a $3 million bank loan taken out by Ellingwood in the years leading up to her death. According to Hill, that loan prompted her to ask court permission to sell the property, with an initial asking price of $10.5 million.
A sale closed on July 21 to Sal Jimenez, who owns Bankers Casino in Salinas. That’s despite attempts by Delgadillo to use the inheritance he expects to collect – along with other investors – to purchase the property. “The county didn’t want any of the previous owners,” Delgadillo says.
Jimenez says he and other bidders initially offered way below the $10.5 million asking price, and were told they had to bid at least $7 million. He made a second offer, and they closed for $6.5 million. The price includes the flea market’s liquor license.
Jimenez wasted no time starting improvements to the property including digging to install new lighting. One problem: he had no permits. The Monterey County Resource Management Agency inspected the property on Aug. 6-7, and issued a stop-work order, or a red tag. An administrative citation was issued Aug. 10, citing violations for construction involving underground electrical work. New paving is under investigation, according to a county spokesperson. Jimenez was charged $360 for administrative costs and must obtain proper permits by Sept. 28 or face fines.
Jimenez says the lighting was something the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department had suggested, but that work was stopped when RMA stepped in. Paving the dirt parking lot will allow him to present drive-in movies during the pandemic, he says. He estimates he’ll invest about $1 million within a year to build restrooms and make other improvements with a goal of making the market two days, and adding other events.
Delgadillo was scheduled to appear before a judge on Aug. 12, past the Weekly’s deadline, asking to have Hill removed as receiver. He plans on filing more lawsuits over the sale of the property. Delgadillo and McPhail have court dates this month as they attempt to finalize their settlement.