Sunset magazine, founded in 1898 as a way to lure travelers West and which went on to help generations live their best California lives, has a new owner.
Time Inc. announced on Thursday that it had sold the title to Regent, a private equity firm in Beverly Hills, Calif., run by a Californian who grew up with magazine and said he was obsessed with acquiring it from the moment he heard it was up for sale.
“A lot of other magazines don’t have the emotional feel you get with Sunset,” said the buyer, Michael Reinstein, whose firm also owns a string of history and military publications, including Wild West Magazine and Army Times, as well as a luxury salon business and other holdings.
Time bought Sunset in 1990 from William and Melvin Lane, members of the family that had scooped up the little magazine as the Great Depression loomed and turned it into a standard-bearer for Western gardeners and those pursuing the art of California living, complete with patio parties, car camping and the skillful use of an outdoor grill.
The sale was in play before this week’s surprise announcement of a publishing deal in which the Meredith Corporation, which owns titles like Better Homes and Gardens and AllRecipes, said it would buy Time Inc. in a deal valued at nearly $3 billion.
Sunset is one of four publications whose sales were in the works before the deal was made. Sales of Essence, Golf and Time Inc. UK are also being brokered, said Jill Davison, a spokeswoman for Time Inc.
Sunset’s editor, Irene Edwards, broke the news to the staff of about 30 on Thursday.
“It’s an amazing scenario,” she said in an interview. Sunset had long been something of a dinghy attached to the back of Time Inc.’s ship. “We were just a very small brand in a large portfolio, and we got a commensurate amount of resources.”
Some staff members were told they would not have jobs, and some parts of the business will be restructured. There will be a greater focus on the magazine’s wine and food events and its model homes, which are designed to showcase innovations in architecture and construction. Mr. Reinstein also plans to invest more in the magazine’s digital and video offerings, and to make better use of longtime Sunset personalities like the food editor Margo True, a veteran of both Saveur and Gourmet.
The Southern Pacific Railroad Company started Sunset as a promotional travel brochure, but it quickly grew along with the American West, and eventually became a prototype for today’s food and lifestyle magazines.
Early editions, however, were more literary. The writer Jack London and John Muir, the naturalist who helped establish Yosemite National Park, contributed stories.
Its first recipe, for chayote squash, was printed in 1915. By the 1940s, the publication was calling itself “the Magazine for Western Living,” and introducing readers to fresh chiles, cilantro and tamales long before they hit the American mainstream.
Sunset has long been a friend to gardeners, too. It publishes separate editions in different growing zones, offering planting advice tailored to several Western states. During World War II, Sunset editors planted a one-acre garden in Berkeley, Calif., to help readers grow successful victory gardens.
When the suburban boom hit, Sunset was there, helping readers make the most of their newly built ranch homes and introducing them to a newfangled concept: the family room.
The magazine and its books have been reliable award winners, and its editors became fierce defenders of well-tested recipes when the digital revolution unleashed a flood of sometimes unreliable cooking content.
The magazine began blogging in 2009, and won a James Beard award for its blog about a do-it-yourself project focusing on what staff members could grow, pickle and preserve within a one-block radius of the 1950s Menlo Park ranch house that had long been its headquarters. Cliff May designed it, and he and Sunset helped popularize the suburban ranch house that would come to define a certain slice of California.
In 2014, the house and the magazine’s serene seven-acre Menlo Park campus were sold to Embarcadero Capital Partners, a San Francisco real estate investment and management company. A year later, Ms. Edwards took over as editor in chief, and the offices moved to Oakland.
After Sunset is sold and the Time Inc. deal is complete, Meredith Corporation will control almost two dozen food and food-related titles, including powerhouses like Food & Wine and Martha Stewart Living, regional favorites like Southern Living, and newer efforts like Extra Crispy, a Time Inc. digital platform that was introduced in 2016 and is dedicated to breakfast and what it calls “morning culture.”