What Happens When You Build A City And Nobody Comes?

Illustration for article titled What Happens When You Build A City And Nobody Comes?

You've probably never heard of California City, CA, but it's the third largest city in California. It occupies a vast expanse of the Mojave Desert, but with a population of 8,385, it's practically a ghost town.


California City came about as part land speculation, part ambitious dream. In the 60's the population boom was coming to fruiting and was fueling enormous need for additional housing. Nathan Mendelsohn was the man with a dream of building an entire new city north of Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, a planned metropolis which offered an escape from the problems of Los Angeles. After developing his ambitious plans, securing funding and purchasing 186.5 square miles of desert, he brought in city planners who laid out streets, parks, neighborhoods and industrial districts. The planned roads were cut into the desert and the city was incorporated in 1965. Lots were sold cheap, as low as $990, and industrial plots were sold for $1 an acre in order to encourage business to move in. It was going swimmingly for a while, the land speculation frenzy meant everyone wanted to be in on the ground floor of the next big thing, so people were buying, but they weren't building.

After years of planning, the effort ran out of steam. Without a reason for the city to be there, people didn't have a reason to move in. Mendelsohn sold the property and moved on to other endeavors. To this day there are only 8,385 living in the western corner of the huge city. Hyundai actually took advantage of the cheap land and built their desert testing facility to the west of town. The vast and empty network of roads remain though, a testament to the huge dream and optimism of the plan. It's kind of spooky looking through the city that never was.

Illustration for article titled What Happens When You Build A City And Nobody Comes?

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[LATimes (1990 archive article) via DivineCaroline]

Photo credit: Circling Hawk

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Matt Brown

Are these streets just open to drive on? sounds like a pretty awesome place for me to tear up a rental car.