Why you should care
When businesses die, sometimes they take communities with them.
Abandoned is an OZY video series telling the stories of places that people have left behind.
The “Yes, We’re Open” sign still hangs there, but the Desert Center Café closed in 2012. It was the last private business hanging on in this California community after its hamburger stand, pool and gas station closed their doors years before.
In 1921, Stephen Ragsdale founded Desert Center, California, at the dusty junction of Interstate 10 and State Route 177, where his vehicle once broke down as he traveled between Phoenix and Los Angeles. After the roads were paved, eccentric “Desert Steve” built the café, service station and post office, which remains federally run to serve travelers and locals. At its peak, Desert Center housed hundreds in shacks and a mobile-home park and served people living in Eagle Mountain, a mine town 13 miles north. Children from both towns attended an elementary school here. And people once paid 10 cents to jump into an outdoor pool for some relief from the relentless desert sun — until, that is, people stopped coming.
It’s the same old story shared by thousands of ghost towns worldwide: The mine closed, and people left. California alone has about 370 ghost towns, many of which have similar tales. Whether it’s massive steel mines or small-town cafés, businesses fail every day. When they’re the only thing around for 50 miles, what remains are empty buildings, memories and eerie silence.
Archival images in video courtesy of Eagle Mountain Family Trees.