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Is there a story in California City?

November 25, 2009 |  8:12 am

Not far from Edwards Air Force Base lies California City. In 1958, a developer envisioned it as the state's next big metropolis behind Los Angeles and San Francisco, bought thousands of acres and laid out a grid of streets in the desert. Now, the place is home to just about 10,000 -- several zeroes shy of the hoped-for population -- and an automobile test track. But the streets remain.

Geoff Manaugh of the smart design/architecture/planning site BLDGBLOG wonders if there's something more there.

I can see an amazing article being written about this place for GOOD magazine —"California and its Utopias," say—or The New Yorker, or, for that matter, Atlas Obscura. The large-scale spatial remnants of an economic downturn, decades in advance of today's recession.

The L.A. Times has found some stories in California City: environmentalist concerns over the racetrack, which threatened tortoises and squirrels. A place in the desert where 1,000 people gather on the 13th of each month to wait for a vision of the Virgin Mary, said to appear in the sky.

And in 1999, we read about some of the plans that went awry in California City: Early on, with no phones, the few residents communicated by CB radio. An herb farm lost its crops to rabbits and a sandstorm. A hydroponic tomato-growing enterprise was a front for marijuana growers. "It's been a scam town," then-Mayor Larry Adams said.

But as for the complete story of the city that didn't happen in California City? There may be more left to tell.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Satellite image of California City via Google Maps