In 1958, real estate developer and sociology professor, Nat Mendelsohn, purchased 82,000 acres of the Mojave Desert. Real estate was hard to come by at the time at an affordable price in nearby Los Angeles and the Fernando Valley. Mendelsohn envisioned an entirely new city in the desert that would rival other large cities in the state. It was and still is the 3rd largest city by area in the state and the 11th largest by area in the nation.
A massive grid was laid out by planners, complete with cul-de-sacs, roads, and access points to the highway. Developers, investors, and speculators flocked to the land and began buying up the new tracts that had been divided up for new homes. They hoped they could cash in on the housing boom and sell the plots for a good profit. Everyday people even started arriving to buy their dream plot at a reduced price. The design of the new city had enough area for 51,000 plots and included a place in the main part of the city called Central Park. It was constructed to have an artificial lake, golf course, pool, picnic areas, a sports center, and tennis courts.
But the hoards of people settling in the new city never came, and large businesses never set up shop except for one cement plant. Ten years later, California City was nothing but a shell. What was left was a barren skeleton of neatly paved dirt roads adorned with white posts of street names that would never be used. The bubble had burst on California City, if it had even got that far.
In 1965, the city was incorporated, and by 1969, the city had only 1,700 residents. Mendelsohn sold his stake in California City in the same year to Great Western Union Corporation, a sugar and mining company, for $27.4 million in stock. Great Western Union tried to sell the plots of land too but was ultimately unsuccessful. Nobody wanted to buy. In 1974, Great Western was acquired by two Texas brothers named Nelson and William Hunt. They really wanted access to Great Western’s sugar beet fields. They got what they wanted, but the huge plot of land in California was also included in the deal.
California City wasn’t completely abandoned, however. According to the 2010 census, the city now has 14,120 residents. It has a PGA golf course, a prison, an airport, its previously mentioned Central Park, and many people that live in California City work at nearby Edwards Air Force Base. The city even has its own minor league baseball team. Maybe things didn’t go all that badly.