CALIFORNIA CITY: EPISODE 3A Man with a Dream
The vision that Ben Perez was sold in 2017 began in 1958, with one man's dream to build a utopian desert city from scratch.
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Smith & Williams records, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.The Dream of California CityNat Mendelsohn had a dream to build a gleaming, futuristic city from scratch in the Mojave Desert. Streets would be curved and designed to slow down traffic. There would be winding greenbelts, for bicycles and walkers. There would be a golf course. A university. A lake with a waterfall.
Smith & Williams records, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa BarbaraCalifornia City Logo ResearchNat Mendelsohn had ambitious plans for his city. This image shows potential logos for California City alongside famous brands: Chevrolet, General Electric and Coca Cola.
"Central Park Opens With A Splash," California City Sun 5, no. 4 (1962)Central Park Opening Day Ceremony, California CityA helicopter dumps ten gallons of water from New York City’s Central Park into California City’s Central Park in 1962. According to Nat Mendelsohn’s daughter, Alex, his experience living in cramped tenements in New York may have helped inspire his vision of California City. He dreamed of creating a similar close-knit community in the Mojave Desert.
Smith & Williams records, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa BarbaraBlueprint for Shopping CenterCalifornia City’s designers planned the model city to the smallest detail, down to the font on street signs. Here, a draft of a billboard design shows plans for a shopping plaza, which includes a sales office for Nat Mendelsohn’s real estate company.
Smith & Williams records, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa BarbaraBarefoot in the WaterfallThe California City Development Company (and later, Great Western Cities) used glossy, full-color photos and ads of people enjoying the city’s sights and recreation.
Arwen Champion NicksThe Boys of California CityHerb Lee and Dallon Cox have been friends since childhood. Back then, California City was so small that it took every kid in town to play a game of flag football. Herb believes that after his mother opposed the city’s incorporation, his family was threatened by someone affiliated with Nat Mendelsohn’s company, and they quickly moved out of town.
Emily GuerinThe BarracudaKathryn Efford, a former saleswoman for Nat Mendelsohn, sits in her California City real estate office with Minnie, her chihuahua. Efford says her nickname is probably because she fired 75 people in one day — a claim we were unable to verify. She says that God gave Mendelsohn his vision for California City.
Founding FatherNat Mendelsohn was a charismatic speaker, an expert salesman and a dapper dresser. This photo appeared on the cover of the 1961 annual report to California City residents and property owners.
Alex MendelsohnThe DadNat Mendelsohn and his ex-wife, Sylvia, frequently played chess in the living room of his Hollywood Hills home. His daughter, Alex, looks on.
Courtesy Steve ColerickWhat California City Isn’tCalifornia City’s marketing team tried to woo residents of large cities like Los Angeles by playing on concerns about pollution, urban sprawl, and traffic. Several early California City residents said their families moved to the city for clean air.
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