California City

Monday, 18th February 2008 by

Way out in the Mojave Desert lies California City. With an estimated 2007 population of little more than 12,500, the name suggests a hope for much more than it ever became. Nevertheless, the city’s area is a massive 203.6 square miles, which actually makes it the 34th largest city by area in the United States!1


In 1958, property developer Nat Mendelsohn had his eyes on this patch of desert with the hope of founding a rival to Los Angeles, and promptly gobbled up 80,000 acres of prime Mojave sand. Mendelsohn had grand plans, and even went to the effort of laying out acres of street blocks, but the city wasn’t a success.

Today, a large proportion of California City’s residents are employed at nearby Edwards Air Force Base but the city is still so small it doesn’t even have its own grocery shop!


Amazingly, even though there are no houses outside the central development, developers have gone to the trouble of naming every single street, and have designated parks for miles around. One such, “Borax Bill Park” is named after the leader of the Twenty mule team, which became famous in the late 19th century for carrying minerals from mines further inland to the west of the Mojave, passing through this area during their expeditions.


California city’s main claim to fame (apart from its startlingly pathetic population growth), is the Hyundai-Kia Proving grounds, a new $60 million dollar test track based over 4300 acres. The cheap land and privacy of the desert makes this an ideal location for test tracks – just a few miles away is the even bigger Honda Proving Center of California, where the company’s concept cars are tested and tweaked before release.


There’s more on California City at both Wikipedia and from their official community website. There’s also a great aerial shot which shows the proving grounds and the vast emptiness of the city.

Thanks to Ross Burnett and seer.

  1. It is also the 3rd largest city in California by area, beating San Jose, which has a population of nearly 1 million!