Mid-cen­tury land sales be­devil prop­erty own­ers

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News - Bill Deaver

One of my vol­un­teer oc­cu­pa­tions in­volves an­swer­ing the phone for the Mo­jave Cham­ber of Com­merce.

We get sev­eral calls a day that in­volve re­quests for in­for­ma­tion on the area, reser­va­tions for the monthly Plane Crazy Satur­day pro­grams, and calls about the lo­ca­tion and value of bare desert land.

The lat­ter are prob­a­bly the most fre­quent. (I re­ceived two while writ­ing this col­umn.)

Back in the 1950s thousands of acres of bare desert land in the Cal­i­for­nia desert was sold to naive buy­ers as a way to get rich quick.

Sell­ers told buy­ers in this post World War II era that South­ern Cal­i­for­nia was in for ex­plo­sive growth and now was the time to get in on the game.

The re­gion was boom­ing due to growth in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try and gen­eral growth re­sult­ing from Amer­ica be­ing about the only ma­jor na­tion whose econ­omy had not been de­stroyed in the war.

Growth ti­dal wave

A ti­dal wave of growth moved to­ward the desert from L.A. and San Bernardino.

Palmdale was about the size of Mo­jave when we ar­rived here a few years ear­lier.

Lan­caster, a farm town, was the largest com­mu­nity in the re­gion, with the only high school and most of the shop­ping.

The ex­pan­sion of what be­came Ed­wards Air Force Base drove growth in the An­te­lope Val­ley and east­ern Kern as the Korean War spurred the need for mod­ern war­planes.

Lan­caster and Palmdale’s growth was spurred by their strate­gic lo­ca­tion be­tween Ed­wards and L.A.’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try, some­thing I could never get across to a long-time Mo­jave busi­ness­man who thought the two towns’ growth was all part of a vast con­spir­acy against Kern County.

One of the in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­facts of that con­nec­tion was the sight of record-set­ting X-15 rocket planes be­ing towed to L.A. for main­te­nance with a Cal­i­for­nia li­cense plate hang­ing from their rear ends.

(In those days the turn­around time be­tween test flights was mea­sured in weeks rather than months.)

De­vel­op­ers ad­ver­tised new com­mu­ni­ties with fancy brochures and hauled pun­ters up to the desert in air­planes and trains, es­pe­cially to Cal­i­for­nia City when it was launched in the late 1950s.

CalCity’s air­port was built to han­dle po­ten­tial cus­tomers flown up in DC3s that a few years ear­lier had been haul­ing troops and cargo to global bat­tle­fronts.

Spe­cial South­ern Pa­cific Rail­road trains trans­ported ad­di­tional pun­ters in trains of red, orange and black cars from their beau­ti­ful “Day­light” stream­lin­ers.

A small shop­ping cen­ter which still ex­ists at the west end of the city was erected, with some struc­tures built with 2-by-2, rather than 2-by-4, fram­ing lum­ber.

A sales cen­ter rose at what is now Cen­tral Park and has been up­graded into a very nice com­mu­nity cen­ter over the years.

Back in the day a group of tal­ented lo­cal ac­tors per­formed some re­ally en­ter­tain­ing plays — in­clud­ing a pro­duc­tion of “The Gazebo,” (pro­nounced “gaze-bo”) in that build­ing.

North Ed­wards arose among a bat­tle be­tween its de­vel­op­ers and a few lo­cals who thought it would be more his­tor­i­cally cor­rect to name it “North Muroc.”


The legacy of that boom­town era is echoed in the calls I get, usu­ally from some­one who has in­her­ited a par­cel of bare desert land in a re­mote lo­ca­tion far from any roads.

Some of the calls are from real es­tate agents or at­tor­neys try­ing to set­tle the es­tates of the orig­i­nal buy­ers.

Their first ques­tion is usu­ally about the lo­ca­tion of their land, which they have never vis­ited. The only lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion they have is usu­ally an asses­sor’s prop­erty num­ber on a prop­erty tax bill.

For that I re­fer them to the Kern County Sur­veyor’s of­fice in Bak­ers­field.

I re­cently got an in­ter­est­ing call from a woman who said she had re­ceived an of­fer for some land from that era from one of our lo­cal re­new­able en­ergy firms.

Know­ing this firm, I told her it was re­li­able and the of­fer sounded like a good deal to me.

She then said she had been told three years ago by a Cal­i­for­nia City real es­tate sales­man, whose name she could not re­call, that her land would prob­a­bly triple in value in three years be­cause of the ex­pected ad­vent of the mar­i­juana in­dus­try.

Since she had not been con­tacted by any­one from that in­dus­try I sug­gested she might con­sider tak­ing the “bird in the hand” of­fer from the re­new­able en­ergy firm.

We left it at that.

I of­ten get calls from own­ers of bare land want­ing to know how to con­tact folks in the wind or so­lar busi­ness.

I al­ways tell them that those folks con­tact prop­erty own­ers if they are in­ter­ested in their prop­erty rather than the other way round.

It’s a lot like the oil busi­ness in that re­gard.

When the Mo­jave 58 By­pass was be­ing de­vel­oped by Caltrans, right-of-way agents spent a lot of time try­ing to track down the own­ers of the many small prop­er­ties along its route.

Over the years crim­i­nal cases have been pros­e­cuted against peo­ple who al­legedly scammed buy­ers of some of this land in­clud­ing a ma­jor case de­vel­oped by the Cal­i­for­nia City Po­lice Dept. and the Kern County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment.

The truth comes out

One Satur­day evening in the late 1970s my wife and I, own­ers of the Mo­jave Desert News at the time, were en­joy­ing a late din­ner in the back room of Reno’s Restau­rant in Mo­jave af­ter a very busy day which in­cluded two fa­tal air­plane crashes.

Af­ter a while we found our­selves lis­ten­ing to four peo­ple in the next booth, all ap­par­ently veter­ans of the desert land busi­ness, brag­ging about the var­i­ous ways they had conned cus­tomers into buy­ing bare land in the mid­dle of the desert over the years.

As the booze flowed the sto­ries got wilder and in­cluded racist com­ments about some of their clients.

Had I taped those con­ver­sa­tions they would have told a fas­ci­nat­ing and dis­turb­ing tale of an in­ter­est­ing era in the his­tory of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia real es­tate.

Decades from now the fall­out from those mid-cen­tury land sales will con­tinue to be­devil own­ers of this land and govern­ment of­fi­cials.

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