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This Creepy Housing Tract Will Have you Seeing Double"It was promoted as this extravagant development, but in many ways it failed spectacularly," says Chicago-based photographer Noritaka Minami, who first learned about California City while attending graduate school at UC Irvine. Turns out, not many people wanted to live in the middle of the desert, miles from the nearest highway and hours from the closest city. When Mendelsohn finally gave up and sold his shares in the town in 1969, he had managed to attract only about 1,300 people to his would-be metropolis. "A lot of people bought land there without visiting it," Minami says. "If they had actually gone, they would have realized how remote it is."Minami was intrigued by California City's name and the fact that, despite living in the state for over a decade, he had never heard of it. He began photographing the town from the ground, and later from a helicopter, focusing on the uninhabited "second community" section of the city, which is subdivided into tens of thousands of empty lots connected by unpaved dirt roads. (Despite never being developed, the streets all have names and show up on Google Maps.) After experimenting with different cameras and film stock, Minami settled on a medium-format camera and a grainy, monochromatic stock that reflects grittiness of the landscape.
The photographs perfectly capture the desert's harsh beauty, which continues to attract some hardy migrants to California City, many of them in search of the very quality—isolation from civilization—that prevented it from fulfilling Mendelsohn's grandiose dreams. "It's very quiet, and some people are drawn to that," Minami says. "There just isn't enough interest to develop a major community."
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