The Salton SeaApr 21st, 2014 | By Lindsay | Category: This and That
About fifty miles southeast of Palm Springs lies the Salton Sea, a former resort destination that I had wanted to stalk ever since seeing Troy Paiva’s haunting images of the place on his website Lost America. Due to the fact that it is largely abandoned and hence lacking in public restrooms, I hesitated making the trek out there. (I suffer from an abnormally small bladder.) Then, while my best friend Robin was in town in mid-March, the Grim Cheaper convinced me that it was time to finally make the trip. Sadly, as we discovered, many of the abandoned structures that Paiva had pictured on his site were demolished in 2008. Being there still turned out to be quite an experience, though, to say the least. [There are several abandoned and semi-abandoned towns lining the shores of the Salton Sea – Bombay Beach, Niland, and Slab City (yes, that’s a place), just to name a few. We hit them all. This post will solely be focused on the North Shore and the Sea itself, with future posts about the other areas to come.]
The Salton Sea was created accidentally in 1905 when runoff from the Colorado River broke through levees and flooded a large valley known as the Salton Sink. The deluge, which lasted for two years, left behind a 380-square-mile inland sea (the largest inland body of water in California – yes, it’s bigger than Lake Tahoe!) situated 228 feet below sea level. It was dubbed the “Salton Sea.”
Developers, recognizing the potential of the picturesque coastal site, started building resorts and marinas (including the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club – pictured above and below – which was designed by legendary architect Albert Frey in 1962) in the region in the 1950s. It wasn’t long before the Salton Sea became a luxury getaway destination and even celebrities flocked to the area for fishing, sunbathing and waterskiing. Just a few of the stars who spent time there include Sonny Bono, Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson, Dean Martin, The Beach Boys, The Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis.
The region’s tenure as a resort destination was short-lived. Agricultural runoff, containing fertilizer, pesticide and salt, from nearby farms continued to flow to the Salton Sea, at the same rate that the expanse was naturally evaporating. Because neither salt nor fertilizer evaporate, the salinity of the lake, as well as its toxicity, increased year after year. This caused a large growth of algae, which drained the sea of oxygen, which in turn killed off the fish population. Dead fish remains began to wash ashore, littering the once beautiful beaches. Birds wound up feeding on those dead fish and, in turn, also died. The thousands upon thousands of animal carcasses that papered the shoreline created a horrific smell that permeated the area. People started to flee. Then, in 1976 and 1977, two large storms hit the region, submerging many of the marinas, clubs, motels and neighborhoods. Residents vacated the Salton Sea in droves, leaving behind homes, cars and other structures. They were never to return.
It was the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, which was shuttered and left abandoned in 1984, as well as the neighboring North Shore Motel and its pool, and a large Texaco gas station sign that I most wanted to see. Sadly, the motel, pool and Texaco sign are all long gone and the Yacht Club was completely refurbished in 2010 (it now serves as a special events center). You can check out some photographs of what they used to look like here.
Today, the abandoned sites are few and far between.
The ones that still stand are sufficiently eerie, though.
From afar, the Salton Sea is quite beautiful, with bright blue waters.
A closer glance reveals that beauty to be an illusion, though. In reality, the waters of the Salton Sea are a murky brown. The blue hue is simply a reflection of the sky.
The white shoreline hides its own secrets.
In truth, the “sand” of the Salton Sea is mainly comprised of crushed fish skeletons . . .
. . . as well as dead fish. It is an absolutely eerie place to visit.
Thanks to its apocalyptic landscape, the Salton Sea has been immortalized onscreen numerous times over the years. The flooded out house where Jim Henry (Richard Conte) lived in 1954’s Highway Dragnet was said to be located at the Salton Sea and I am fairly certain that filming actually took place there, as well. Because the area has changed so drastically over the ensuing sixty years, I was unable to confirm that, though.
I do know for certain – thanks to this 2006 Los Angeles Times article – that the interior of Jim’s house was a set and not the interior of an actual Salton Sea residence.
In 1957, the sea was where prehistoric mollusk mutations were discovered in The Monster That Challenged the World. The narration that opens the film states, “This is the Salton Sea in Southern California – a strange phenomenon in which nature has placed four hundred square miles of salt water in the middle of an arid desert.” Aside from the aerial view of the area shown during that narration, I do not believe any other filming took place there.
The region was also used for flashback scenes in which Tom Van Allen (Val Kilmer) thinks back to a time when his wife, Liz (Chandra West), was still alive in 2002’s aptly-named The Salton Sea.
In the book Hollywood Escapes, the film’s director D.J. Caruso is quoted as saying, “I had flown over The Salton Sea many times and always wondered What the hell is that down there, and why is it called a sea? After reading the first draft of Tony Gayton’s screenplay The Salton Sea, I hopped into my car and made an impromptu trip out there. Upon arriving, I was overcome by the vastness of this body of water. It was indeed visually striking and I was moved by its haunted beauty. The images at the Salton Sea alone could have made a two-hour picture. I knew this place was the perfect companion to the soul of Val Kilmer’s character. What once was beautiful and full of hope, now was lost and searching for a way to survive.”
The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club masqueraded as the Aces & Spades dance club in the 2005 thriller The Island.
I am fairly certain that only the exterior of the Yacht Club was used in the filming and that the interior of the Ace & Spades was a set built elsewhere.
The North Shore Motel also appeared briefly in the movie.
Rock band Linkin Park shot the cover images for their 2007 album, Minutes to Midnight, at the Salton Sea.
For more stalking fun, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Los Angeles magazine online. And you can check out my other blog, The Well-Heeled Diabetic, here.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The Salton Sea is located off Highway 111, about 50 miles southeast of Palm Springs. The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club can be found at 99155 Sea View Drive in Mecca.