A ghost town, you know the drill, animals take over houses and swimming pool become stagnant pits – breeding grounds for all manner of creepy crawlies. Now apply that to a city. A city so abandoned that most of it was never built in time for it all to crumble. California City.
It was the pipe dream of real estate developer Nat Mendelsohn. In 1958 he founded California City, hoping to produce the next bustling Californian metropolis on a size and scale which would rival that of Los Angeles. To give him credit, Mr Mendelsohn got admirably close; to this very California City is the 3rd largest city by area in the whole of California, second only to San Diego and the eminent Los Angeles. California City covers its 527 km2 with the bare minimum though whereas its competitors stack their buildings up like precarious towers of bricks waiting to be pushed over.
California City does not have this, it keeps a low profile: 14,000 people occupy its few buildings, they experience the collapsed dream of California City. It is mainly a network of roads, all meticulously named and scratched into the desert sand like some cryptic message from an alien race. One that very much liked signs and even named every single cul-de-sac with grandiose names such as Planet Lane and Alpha Street, names which now seem pathetic, near childish. Naive names marking a fictional city in meticulous detail.
The only true evidence of occupation is the occasional sighting of a house, a rare thing to find in the city, something complete.
The city is currently in a bizarre economic state, it was hoped that the city would match any of the other large city’s with its economic heft but instead it maintains a smorgasbord of bizarre little industries. To the north, a secretive Honda proving track for their futuristic automobiles. In the vicinity a privately run prison. Aiming eastwards towards the dawn one would eventually encounter the expansive and extensive excavation in the Boron mine, the largest open-pit mine in the whole of California. The main employer happens to be in a different game though. Aeronautics, the Edwards Air Force Base, with a NASA run elite flight-research center.
For all of its inability to function as a city it has other functions, the dirt and gravel roads help soldiers prepare for Iraq, the roads form an impromptu targeting grid for trainee pilots simulating bombing runs. 100 miles south lies its greatest enemy, competitor from birth, Los Angeles. However California City has something it does not. A meaning, some story with measures of success and failure. California City is less of a city and more of a work of art, carved and painstakingly name into the skin of the Mojave desert like a contagious scar. Monumental in scale and momentous in failure. Perhaps one day it shall become an archaeological mystery. In the future, and even today, when people hear of it they ask the same question. Why?
Maybe it will fade into the annals of history, the desert swallowing all evidence of the city that never quite existed. Alternatively it could be a historical gold mine, a lesson to the future, even mistakes make a difference. Good or bad? Who knows.