America’s 34th largest city has tumbleweeds as its primary residents. This is Kern County’s California City, a Death Valley suburb that was designed to handle the state of California’s ballooning population in the 1950s. Real estate developer Nat Mendelsohn began construction of the area in 1956 after buying up hundreds of miles of desert ranch land and subdivided it into thousands of plots for families to come in and build their dream homes on.
What Mendelsohn promoted as a metropolis in the making that would rival Los Angeles when completed soon became an example of money being flushed down an uninstalled toilet. California City was in the middle of nowhere, and not surprisingly not many people were brave enough to take the first groundbreaking steps to moving there. The frequent desert dust storms didn’t help the situation, either.
Roads were laid out and named after universities, but never paved. Some people did build houses, but in those early years California City barely made it to the point of having more than a thousand residents. Its claim to being the 34th largest city in America is based on its physical footprint only – 200 square miles of land.
For years it looked as though it would be a completely deserted dream that was doomed to never come true. Today, about 14,000 people call California City home. Only a small corner of the original land delegated for the town is inhabited, so the residents and businesses are still surrounded by a whole lot of dust and a city skeleton.
California City is holding strong now, despite its shaky beginnings and initial over-hyped potential. It is home to a 2,300-bed prison, a mining operation and a test track for Honda vehicles. It is still a work in progress, but on the bright side there’s lots of room for anyone who’s up for a move to somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of big city living.
Story by Jay Moon