Sunday Drive: The Salton Sea California

11:46:00 AM

by Michael Satterfield

I am a major fan of mid-century modern architecture, and being in Southern California we have more than our fair share of it to see. But one of my all-time favorite designers was Albert Frey, who lived in and designed many buildings here in the Southern California Inland Empire, including the Red Cross Building in Riverside, the Aerial Tramway Visitor Center in Palm Springs, and the North Shore Yacht Club at the Salton Sea one of his most famous buildings. Sadly this building today is much like many of the communities that surround the Salton Sea, abandoned, forgotten, and falling apart.

When it first opened in 1962 it was the most glamorous place on the sea, with its own airstrip, hotel (next door), marina, pool, dance hall, restaurant, and much more. It attracted all the who's who of the Rat Pack era, but as increased pollution made the Sea less usable for recreation the grand plans for a world-class recreation mecca began to fade, over 27 years ago the grand club closed its doors for the last time. Now it's only visitors are skaters who still enjoy the pool, as well as taggers, local homeless, and explorers like myself that wonder how it could have all gone so wrong. With millions of people visiting the Colorado River why couldn't the Salton Sea attract some of that boating traffic? But pollution and bad press have tainted (no pun intended) the sea in the minds of many.

As always I took a long way around, taking Highway 78 trough Julian and across the vast desert, it is amazing to see the diversity of California, from there we end up at a border checkpoint on the south-west shore of the sea, a sea so massive that for the next 35 miles headed north you can border water. The sea is roughly 40 miles long and 13 miles wide, making it one of the largest inland seas in the west. After making our way north we turned east and headed around the north shore of the sea. It is 109 degrees, and upon exiting the car you find odd smell musky smell of salt water mixed with heat.

There are a few signs of life, a home a few blocks over has an air conditioner running, and a train moves slowly along highway 111. But other then that the area is returning to the desert, the once amazing resort is now left to rot in the desert sun. On a side note you may recognize this building as the bar from the film "The Island"

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