From the endless stretches of empty city roads in the heart of the Mojave Desert to the tallest abandoned building in the world and an eerie ghost city filled with identical abandoned villas, the failed utopian dream of California City stands as a testament to the dangers of overreaching ambition. In this article, we will explore the history of California City and examine why this once-promising project fell short of its grand aspirations.
A Czech-Born Sociology Professor’s Vision
The story of California City begins with Nathan K. Mendelsohn, a Czech-born sociology professor from Columbia University who studied the structure of towns and villages. After the Second World War, California’s economy boomed, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to the state with its abundance of military bases and defense infrastructure, and regular funding from the federal government. Mendelsohn, wanting to be part of this rapid growth, purchased 30,000 hectares of land in the Mojave Desert in 1958 with the aim of transforming this barren wasteland into a suburban utopia that would rival Los Angeles.
The Birth of California City
Mendelsohn chose this specific plot of land in the Mojave Desert for two reasons. First, desert land far away from city centers like San Francisco or Los Angeles was very cheap. Second, Mendelsohn learned about the existence of an underground lake, which would have single-handedly sustained the water needs of the entire city in an area where water was hard to come by. With these two factors in mind, Mendelsohn created the California City Development Company (CCDC) to oversee and manage the development of California City.
By 1961, the master plan for the city’s creation was already in full swing. A central park and artificial lake were built to entice potential buyers, along with two golf courses and a four-story motel. Throughout the early 1960s, Mendelsohn heavily advertised California City in the Los Angeles Times, calling it an investment worth buying and describing the development as both a “giant venture” and the “largest community in the US.”
The Failure of California City
Despite Mendelsohn’s efforts to grow California City into a bustling metropolis, seven years after its beginning, the city only had a total of 800 residents. Much of the city’s land remained undeveloped, dotted with empty plots of land. In 1969, Mendelsohn sold the majority of his shares in the company when sales started to dwindle down. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also started investigating allegations of fraud and corruption, and by 1972, the FTC issued a cease and desist order for misleading advertising.
The Legacy of California City
Today, California City remains a shadow of its former self, a failed utopia in the Mojave Desert. While its story serves as a cautionary tale of overreaching ambition and the dangers of unchecked development, it also stands as a testament to the resilience and determination of the human spirit. Despite its many setbacks and challenges, California City remains a symbol of hope, a reminder that even the grandest dreams can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance.
In conclusion, California City was a failed attempt at creating a booming metropolis in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The city’s history begins with Nathan K. Mendelsohn, a Czech-born sociology professor who purchased 30,000 hectares of land in the desert with the vision of building a suburban utopia. Despite the construction of amenities such as a central park, artificial lake, golf courses, and a motel, California City never attracted the millions of residents that Mendelsohn had envisioned. The cheap price tag and promises of America’s next biggest city only enticed a few individuals to gamble on the city’s potential. In 1969, Mendelsohn sold the majority of his shares in the company, and the Federal Trade Commission issued a cease and desist order for misleading advertising. Today, California City stands as a reminder of the consequences of grand and unrealistic visions in the real estate industry.