Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Co., received the inaugural Vanguard Award Thursday from the Urban Land Institute in honor of his 45 years of visionary leadership in land use and development. Bren received the award during the ULI's annual conference under way in Los Angeles where he was interviewed by Stan Ross, chairman of Irvine's board and a senior fellow at the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate. The Irvine Ranch is heralded for setting the standards as one of the nation's first and most extensive masterplanned communities. It's one that has enjoyed continued success through the years. The 93,000-acre ranch, which includes the city of Irvine, Calif., includes more than 50,000 acres of open space and parkland. It has been designated a landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is widely admired for its safe communities, strong employment centers, good schools, parks and timeless architecture. Irvine Ranch has been successful in ways that other large-scale developments have not due, in part, to its location and the financial backing of the Irvine Co., Bren said, during his conversation with Ross. "There was no mortgage financing on the land," he said. "Time was our friend, it was not our enemy." The 147-year-old Irvine Co., a privately held firm, had no pressure to act quickly, unlike publicly traded developers using acquisition funding and dealing with quarterly dividends. The strategy in those early days was simple, he said, and involved investing cash generated through orange groves, cattle grazing and farming into the project. "I'm convinced that large-scale community development has to be done in a private environment, meaning there are no quarterly dividends required," he said. Location has also been key to the ranch's success, Bren said. Situated between two vibrant metro areas, Los Angeles and San Diego, the large expanse has ocean-side views on the west and mountain vistas on the east. It hasn't always been easy to develop the property, however, Bren noted, retelling the company's 28-year regulatory battle with a Southern California coastal authority to build two golf courses overlooking the ocean. The courses eventually got built. The ranch, now home to 230,000 residents, still has another 20 or so years of development before build-out. In accepting the award, Bren said he hopes Irvine Ranch will be known and celebrated as much for its undeveloped and preserved land as for its built environment. "I'm hopeful that the heritage of our Irvine stewardship will live on in many new ways," he said. Write to Kerry Curry. Follow her on Twitter @communicatorKLC.