The failed town of California City
California City, California
From the air, this collection of streets resembles a printed circuit board. Its carefully planned cul-de-sacs and concentric curved roads are neat and densely packed. The layout of streets and services is logical, aesthetically pleasing, and well-suited to a major city. There's just one thing missing: people.
In 1958, a former sociology professor named Nat Mendelsohn purchased 80,000 acres of land in the Mojave Desert. His grand plan was to create California's next great metropolis -- a thriving, car-centric city to rival Los Angeles. Mendelsohn mapped out a network of roads, named them all, and oversaw their construction. The streets surrounded Central Park, an 80-acre green expanse incorporating an artificial lake. Model homes and architectural drawings showed an enticing, affordable version of the American dream.
By January 1959, there were 65 homes in California City. But this influx of people did not herald a mass migration. As the years went by, a trickle of families established homes, but for the most part, the carefully laid out streets remained quiet and empty. Mendelsohn bailed on his planned city in 1969, selling it to a Denver-based sugar and mining company.
By 1990, the population was hovering at just over 6,000. In 2000, it was 8,388. As a major metropolis, California City was a total failure. But its cracked, sand-sloughed streets now attract off-road adventurers, who enjoy careening around the curves of the uninhabited roads on motorcycles and ATVs. The current population is around 14,000, but the houses are spaced oddly. Some blocks are crammed with homes, while others have just one dwelling. All are buffered by a swath of streets that carve up the vacant lots.