THE HIDDEN SIDE OF HACKBERRY

With its Mission-style architecture, the school was the grandest building in town.

Almost every traveller on the section of Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman, Arizona, stops at the famous Hackberry General Store. But few realise that there is more to Hackberry than a cold soda and some picturesque photo opportunities with old cars. Just to the south of the General Store and Route 66 lies the remains of what was, from 1874 until shortly after the Great War, a thriving town.

Originally a mining camp at the foot of the Peacock Mountains, Hackberry supported the twin trades of ranching and mining – indeed, it was the former that brought the railroad to Hackberry in 1882, as much to transport cattle as to carry ore from the Hackberry Silver Mine. By the time the mine closed, some $3 million of gold and silver had been dug out and perhaps one of the obvious indications of the temporary prosperity of the town can be seen in its now disused elementary school.

By the time this photo was taken in 1924, the school had been open for 7 years. Sadly, I don’t know whether the teacher is the ‘pleasant young Miss Jones’. Photo courtesy of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts

At a time when most schools were little more than wooden shacks or barns (for example, the Red School in Valentine to the west), the community of Hackberry commissioned a rather grandiose stone building. In May 1917, the School’s Board of Trustees called for bids for the erection of ‘a one-story public school building, to accommodate at least 80 pupils and cost not to exceed Seven Thousand Dollars; building to include all necessary wardrobe closest, teacher’s room, library room, etc, and to have chimney and fresh air vents for heating and ventilating purposes and to be as nearly fire-proof as the sum to be expended will permit.” You have to love that ‘nearly fire-proof’, but clearly not if it was going to cost more money!

The design that was accepted turned out to be a quite ornate Mission-style building with red roof tiles, two tiny decorative towers and even a Spanish-style bell. Nor did the Trustees hang about once having made a decision. At the end of August 1917, the Mohave County Miner reported that contractor Axel Ericson was completing the cornice work on the school (incidentally, Mr Ericson had just won the contract for his next job, which would be installing radiators and steam heating in the Hotel Brunswick in Kingman).

The bell still seems operational, but I decided not to try…

The school had two classrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living quarters for a teacher, one of the first of whom was a Miss Jones who, a visit to Kingman being enough of an occasion to make the local newspaper, was described as ‘a pleasant young teacher’. To the young children who attended Hackberry Elementary School – they ranged from kindergarten age to the 8th grade – the building must have seemed almost like a castle. Teachers came and went; children grew up but often stayed in the town. Many of them were Griggs and several generations of that family were taught in the school. In fact, virtually everyone in Hackberry now (although that’s only around 20 people) is either a Griggs or related to the family.

An abandoned basketball hoop beside the school.

But, by 1994, the Board of Trustees (all of them, by the way, retired and without children in the school) decided that the little school should be closed. The parents of the 22 remaining pupils fought the decision but without success, even though the reasoning seems in hindsight a little vague. Joseph Averna, one of the three Trustees called the school ‘inefficient and ineffective’ (it quite possibly was, the tendency to follow the curriculum was, by all accounts, less than enthusiastic) and, on the eve of the meeting to decide the future of the Hackberry Elementary school, proclaimed; “We are going to drag [the parents] kicking and screaming in the 20th century. The people who pay the bills want the school closed.” He then went on to admit that no-one had actually looked at a budget, nor did they know how much money would be saved by the closure. Nonetheless, the decision to shut the school was made the following day.

Today children are bussed to schools miles away, leaving Hackberry as more of a ghost town than ever, while the school – which is owned by the Griggs family – stays resolutely shut and fenced off. The family hopes one day to refurbish, but no new generation of Griggs will ever be taught there.

Hackberry Elementary School, still as if the children had just left for the day.

NOT QUITE SUCH A SHORE THING

Half close your eyes, ignore the smell of rotting fish and you could see why this was such a popular place in the 1960s. The pilings to the left are the remains of the boat jetty.

The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club began construction in 1958 at a time when that accidental sea, the Salton Sea, was an up-and-coming destination and not the dead fish-ridden wasteland that much of it has become today.

Back when it looked like the resort would last forever.

Back in the 1950s, there was a multi-million dollar plan for what would become California’s largest marina and the jewel in the crown was the yacht club, designed by architect Albert Frey who was responsible for ‘desert modernism’ and whose influence on Palm Springs remains to this day. Frey delighted in the idea of creating a ship in the middle of a desert by a sea that shouldn’t exist, and his design is evocative of a boat with a curved prow, mast, crow’s nest lounge and porthole windows. It soon became popular, promoted as ‘The Glamour Capital of the Salton Sea’, and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, the Beach Boys and the Marx Brothers all visited the club.

Bereft of its nautical flags and Albert Frey’s signature yellow fibre glass panels.

One of the developers who built the yacht club was Ray Ryan, who had been responsible for the restoration of the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs and later opened the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. Ryan was a flamboyant character who, it was whispered, had connections to the Mob. Stepping out of the Olympia health club in Evansville, Indiana on 18th October 1977, he got into his new Lincoln Continental Mark V coupe and turned the key. The car exploded. Ryan was killed immediately, the power was knocked out over the south part of Evansville and it took two days to find all the pieces of the Lincoln.

From a LA Time supplement of April 1963. The yacht club is in the middle left, with the pool clearly visible. The jetty was destroyed in 1981, and the motel at the top of the picture in late 2008.

Without Ryan, it’s unlikely that North Shore would have been the destination spot that it became in the 1960s, but even he could do little about the twin forces of a recession and environmental problems, both of which ensured the resort’s downfall. As the development boom went bust in the 1970s, countless lots were simply abandoned, while water pollution saw the number of visitors fall. Flooding compounded the area’s problems and, in 1981, a flood destroyed the North Shore Marina’s jetty. If people couldn’t dock their boats, they wouldn’t visit. Many took their boats away from the Salton Sea entirely as they found the increased salinity clogging expensive marine engines.

By 1984, the yacht club was forced to shut its doors. Eventually it fell prey to vandals who exacerbated the interior damage caused by its use as a film location in 2005 (the front was also painted with the name ‘Aces & Spades’ for the movie The Island and the inside gutted) and to skateboarders who treasured the yacht club’s now-empty swooping pool.

The North Shore Motel close to the yacht club. The motel was torn down a few months after this photo was taken.

But that’s not quite the end of the story. The North Shore Yacht Club looked like this when I first visited in 2008. There was a large motel nearby, albeit also boarded up. When I returned three years later, the motel had been razed to the ground but, to my surprise, the yacht club had been restored to its former glory. It was, apparently, intended for use as a community centre and home to the Salton Sea History Museum. But here’s the rub; the owners of the property terminated the museum’s lease after a handful of years, forcing the museum into (hopefully temporary) closure, while every time I’ve been there, the place has been firmly shut up with no indication of any future community events to be held there.

If a club designed to look like a ship in the desert was incongruous, the site of a restored and repainted disused building at North Shore is even odder still.

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club in 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The famous pool, now gone.

THE INTERNATIONAL CAR FOREST

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In a town noted for its otherworldness, the International Car Forest of the Last Church stands out in Goldfield. Once the biggest town in Nevada, Goldfield is now a place people pass through, although not too quickly. The local police force is noted for its enthusiasm in enforcing the speed limit.

IMG_7006But on the southern edge of town is a place that’s part art installation, part modern graveyard. The International Car Forest was the work of Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie. Rippie owned the 80 acres of land next to Highway 95 and enlisted Sorg (who fell in love with Goldfield and would move there in 2004) in an ambitious project to set the world record for the most upturned cars in an art work, primarily to beat Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. Rippie also owned over 40 cars, trucks and buses. Trust me, this is not particularly unusual in Goldfield.

File0475Work began in 2002 and continued over the next decade, using a back hoe and a lot of hard work to ‘plant’ the vehicles. Some were posed nose into the ground, some balanced on the top of others, some poised over mounds of earth. The idea was that the site would be a blank canvas for artists and would inspire graffiti, rather as the better-known Cadillac Ranch ending up doing.

IMG_6982But, unlike that Texas landmark, the International Car Forest seems, for the most part, to have attracted people with some artistic flair. Most of the cars and buses have been painted with designs rather than having names scrawled badly in spray paint. It’s probably the fact that the International Car Forest is in the middle of nowhere – and once you get to nowhere you have to traverse some pretty potholed roads – that has protected it from becoming a eyesore like Cadillac Ranch.

File0469Unsurprisingly, considering that they were two diametrically opposed personalities, Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie’s partnership did not end well. Sorg is an artist who had a vision for the International Car Forest; Rippie just wanted his name on a Guinness World Record. They fell out irrevocably not long before Rippie went to prison for two years for improperly possessing and attempting to purchase firearms. He had been found not guilty of a 1970 armed robbery in Colorado by reason of insanity, something he neglected to tell a dealer in 2010 when purchasing a gun. In 2013 he was arrested at his home in Goldfield where police found with 15 firearms, including two loaded semi-automatic assault-type rifles with extended 30-round clips and a loaded semi-automatic .40 caliber pistol and over 22,000 rounds of ammunition. The court was told Rippie was well-known to law enforcement and others in the Goldfield and Tonopah areas.

File0459Chad Sorg is still an artist and blogger. He has never been found insane. Mark Rippie is out of jail and living in Goldfield where he describes himself as ‘a fat old man with a shit load of guns and ammos’. And quite a few cars that don’t work…

 

 

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GHOST SCHOOL IN A GHOST TOWN

 

The front entrance still looks as spruce as it must have done in 1928.

Lela in Texas always struggled against the odds. Known to some people who travel Route 66 as the home of E Mike Allred’s Regal Reptile Ranch (see the Never Quite Lost post, Snakes on a Plain), it lost out all around to its more glamorous neighbour, Shamrock.

Lela was established in 1902 as a stop on the Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf Railway, when it was originally called Story. It then gained a newspaper – the Wheeler County Texan – and a small school. Then, the ultimate mark of a settlement came along; a post office. Folklore has it that the young postmaster, a young Texan by the name of Bedford Forrest Bowers, changed the town’s name to Lela in honour of his sister-in-law.. However, there’s a few holes in that story. The town was already called Lela when Bedford was appointed postmaster on 9th June 1903. He was 25 years old at the time and there is no record of him having a wife. He did have two older brothers, but David was married to Maud and Isaac to Anna Pearl, neither of which lead themselves to a contraction of Lela.

Whatever the origin of the name, there was a school in Lela (although the dedicated school wasn’t built until 1907), and the first teacher was the splendidly named Fannie (or Frances) Womble. Miss Womble was barely 20 years old when she assumed that position and was soon married to Lucian Purcell, a relative of John Purcell, one of the school’s trustees. Sadly, the marriage would be cut short. In 1903, Fannie suffered a miscarriage, but two years later she gave birth to a son, Farrel. Complications set in and just ten days after the birth, on 16th February 1905, Fannie died. It was a week after her twenty-third birthday. Little Farrel struggled on, but on 9th May 1905 he too succumbed.

Lela would suffer another loss the following year when Bedford Bowers died, aged just twenty-eight. But already the town was beginning to lose out to nearby Shamrock. Although the discovery of natural gas would bring short-lived renewed prosperity to Lela, gradually both trade and residents began to move to Shamrock. But it was while Lela was undergoing this brief boom that its school burned down. At the time, the town was large and prosperous enough to warrant the building of a fine brick school which would accommodate all grades. However, by the 1930s, it was catering only to the younger children, as the high school students decamped to – yes – Shamrock.

One of the gas stations which sprang up to serve Route 66. It limped on in its last years as JD’s Service Station before falling into disrepair.

Route 66 would bring another infusion of life into Lela, as two gas stations were opened. But it didn’t last. By 1947, there were only 50 people left in Lela; the school and the church staggered on but the remaining businesses gradually closed. Even the newspaper moved down to Shamrock.  In 1976, Shamrock took its final victory over its neighbour as the post office was transferred there from Lela. Fifteen years later, the school was closed and has stood shuttered ever since. There is no chance of it opening again; Lela has no businesses, no shops and little in the way of population. Today it stands empty, echoing to the sound of children’s shouts on a long ago wind.

Incidentally, Fannie’s widower, Lucian Purcell, did eventually marry again and had eight children with his second wife, Annie (he would given his eldest son the middle name of Bowers, presumably in memory of the late young postmaster). They made their home in Shamrock.

Although it has a historical marker, Lela High School is not yet on the National Register of Historic Places.

THE TOWN WHERE DINOSAURS LIVED

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Ran when parked.

Dinosaurs and a ghost town in one place? Does it get any better? Welcome to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in the middle of Nevada.

Interior of Berlin’s 1898 30 stamp mill

Like most ghost towns in the west, Berlin owed its life to mining. The first recorded mining activity in the area was in 1863 when a small group of prospectors discovered silver in Union Canyon. A small camp called Union was established, followed by Ione, Grantsville and, in 1897, Berlin. Berlin soon had a population of around 300 people, including the miners, woodcutters and charcoal makers needed to mine the ore and process it in the huge 30 stamp mill, a doctor, a nurse and one prostitute. Yes, one, apparently. That’s what you call a monopoly on the market.

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The interior of one of the surviving cabins.

But, like so many similar places, that heyday was short-lived. However, in the case of Berlin, its decline wasn’t caused by the depletion of ore, but by the workforce itself. In 1907, miners struck for higher wages. The Austin-Nevada Consolidated Mining Company refused to pay and the mine closed in 1909. With no work, people moved away; despite two short-lived resurgences, by 1914, Berlin was a virtual ghost town. You know a town is all over when even the resident lady of the night has moved on.

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Former workshop

The abandoned town might well have disappeared back into the ground had it not been for the discovery of dinosaur bones in the 1920s, or to be precise, the remains of the Ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile that swam in a warm ocean that covered central Nevada 225 million years ago. The find was considered of such importance that the University of California spent much of the 1950s conducting archaeological digs in the area which, in 1957, was declared a state park by the state of Nevada. Twenty years later, the reptile would become Nevada’s state fossil too. Some 40 fossilised Ichthyosaurs were found, and you can see several complete, unexcavated fossils in a cliff face around two miles from Berlin. The find was close to Union which, due to time, weather and vandals, no longer exists.

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Home on the range.

Today there are around 13 buildings left in Berlin, maintained in a state of arrested decay by the park rangers, as well as some awesome views over what was once a vast sea.

 

 

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KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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Looking out over the sea.

A LITTLE PLACE IN THE DESERT

Collapsing mine processing building.

A ghost town in Nye County, Bonnie Claire is now little more than haphazard timbers clinging together in the semblance of buildings and old mine workings.

It didn’t seem wiser to get any closer to what seemed like quite a deep shaft.

North of what is now Nevada State Route 267, Bonnie Claire began in 1906 as a tiny settlement, originally to service nearby mines (although there had been a camp, Thorp or Thorp’s Wells, out here since the 1880s) with mills owned by the Bonnie Clare Bullfrog Mining Company. In September of that year, the Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad was extended and the new station was named the Montana Station. However, when the townsite was established, it was known as Bonnie Claire. The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad soon also laid lines to the new town.

The Bonnie Claire Mine, now private property and fenced off.

Within eight years, mining was virtually played out in the area and Bonnie Claire might have disappeared at that point, But, when Albert Mussey decided to build a holiday home in Death Valley, Bonnie Claire had a brief resurgence. For three years from 1925 to 1928, all the construction materials for Scotty’s Castle were delivered to Bonnie Claire station. However, when that project ground to a halt in 1928, the railroad closed, the tracks removed in 1931, the post office closed, and Bonnie Claire’s fate was sealed. There was a small flurry of activity during the 1940s and early ’50s, but since then the town has gradually fallen apart.

 

 

 

The Huson House, with an extension in the form of a vintage trailer.

One of the last official residents of Bonnie Claire was A Victor Huson, a local miner, who lived here in the 1950s with his wife, Mellie. Vic Huson died in 1961 and is buried in nearby Beatty. In complete contrast to Bonnie Claire, Mellie saw her years out in Las Vegas, living to the age of 92.

 

 

Rapidly deteriorating mine building; six years ago this still had the roof framework.

That speaker probably doesn’t date back to the 1940s…

Interior of one of the mine buildings.

The Huson House.

 

SIGN OF THE TIMES

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On a lonely stretch of Route 66 east of Newberry Springs, California stands a sign. It’s not much of a sign and, as the years go by, it’s becoming even less of one. It sags in the middle as if one good gust of wind would destroy it forever but it’s still just possible to read CAFE MOTEL with an arrow beneath. Now that arrow points to nothing but desert and the remains of an old trailer, but once this was quite literally a Desert Oasis.

In his A Guide Book to Highway 66, Jack Rittenhouse notes two gas stations at this point within a half mile of each other, one ‘with cafe, few cabins and garage’ and the other ‘similar but lacking a garage’. Rather frustratingly, at a time when every clutch of houses merited its own name, Mr Rittenhouse doesn’t cite place names but in 1939, seven years before his book, the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration produced a guide to California in which it names two places, Mojave Water Camp and Guyman (‘each has its small knot of sun-bleached buildings’) which are very likely the sites of Rittenhouse’s two stations.

The Mojave Water Camp service station. Note the cabins to the left of the main building.

It’s also likely that, by the time the Guide Book to Route 66 was published, the Mojave Water Camp no longer existed. The last tangible evidence of its existence is in a 1939 photograph by Burton Frasher which shows a Shell station and cafe with a small row of cabins beside it. Some sources say that two service stations were incorporated into one, but contemporary reports speak of two separate establishments a half mile apart.

Poe’s Cafe in 1949.

Down the road from the Mojave Water Camp, the gas station at Guyman was bought and redeveloped by Ed Poe, who built a new modern cafe building which proclaimed POE’S CAFE in a square sign and advertised chicken dinners on the front of the cafe. From there on, the place was always known as Poe’s Cafe and the area became generally known as Poe or Poe Town. By 1949, it was ‘Poe’s Cafe and Continental Bus Stop’ and sold Shell fuel although, according to a legal notice in the Bakersfield Californian the following spring, it was by then a Texaco station. A few cabins – or the motel – were added on the side of Route 66.

The Desert Oasis Cafe in the 1950s, to judge by the gas pumps. The Poe’s Cafe sign has been replaced and awnings fixed over the windows, while the gas station now retails Richfield fuel.

Poe sold the business in the early 1950s and it was renamed the Desert Oasis, although the name never really took. To the end of its days, the place was known as Poe’s Cafe. Once again, it changed brands, becoming a Richfield station. However, as with other places along the busy highway, not all travellers were filled with good intentions and a desire for a piece of home-cooked pie. In September 1952, a waitress at Poe’s Cafe fell to talking with 33-year-old Robert Elmer Jensen. He persuaded her into his car with the promise of a better job and then took her on a 24-hour ride during which he raped her twice. The waitress managed to escape although she would never have to testify against Jensen who was shot dead by Pennsylvania state police a month later.

Five years later, Poe’s service station – the name Desert Oasis didn’t catch on with the San Bernadino County Sun newspaper – was destroyed by fire after all three pumps caught fire on the evening of 17th April 1957. Fire department units from the nearby Marine Base and the California Department of Forestry at Hesperia found the service station engulfed by fire but they managed to save the cafe, which the San Bernardino County Sun was still calling Poe’s Cafe when, in 1974, it reported on two Daggett juveniles breaking in and stealing food stuff.

From then, Poe’s Cafe quietly disappears into history. Except for that crumbling and broken sign on the side of the highway, for that very sign was intended to entice travellers off Route 66. And then, of course, there was no more Route 66 and no-one wanting to stop for a bed or pie, but the sign still carries on doing its job, long after Poe’s Cafe had vanished into the desert.

All that’s left of Poe’s Cafe, service station and motel.