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Salton Sea: CA's Overlooked Treasure

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Laflin, P., 1995. The Salton Sea: California's overlooked treasure. The Periscope, Coachella Valley Historical Society, Indio, California. 61 pp. (Reprinted in 1999)

THE SALTON SEA 
CALIFORNIA'S OVERLOOKED TREASURE

PART II LIVING WITH THE SEA

Chapter 7

REMEMBERING THE SALTON SEA'S FIRST YEARS
From a manuscript by George Ames

A. 0. Hayward was shingling the roof of his new home. It was to be a nice home. He would be proud of it for many years. --Or would he

Far off, across the open desert, some ten miles to the southeast was a body of water.

Water that shouldn't be there. Water that hadn't been there a year before!

It was the Spring of '07. The Colorado River, during its annual spring rampage the year before had broken its banks and was transforming the Salton Sink into the Salton Sea. All the king's horses and all the king's men--the Southern Pacific Railroad and the United States Government had failed, for nearly a year, to stem the flood. A catastrophe was in the making!

The railroad had already re-routed forty miles of its tracks, from Mecca to Niland to higher ground to the two hundred feet below sea level where the railroad runs today, incidentally. Twenty miles of its old alignment was already under water and another flood season would raise the level of the sea to where it would be lapping at the embankments of the new alignment. To say that the railroad was worried would be putting it mildly. They had already started grading a new routing, starting just above thermal and following the line one hundred feet below sea level and connecting with the existing line several miles toward Yuma, below Niland. And they were running a survey along the sea level line. This line presented real problems, for it ran into the edge of the Mecca Hills, east of Mecca, and, if the water could not be stopped even that line would be under several feet of water eventually! The Southern Pacific Railroad had big problems ... When the water came in 1906, history was simply repeating itself... Left unchecked, the water would, in a very few years time, engulf the entire valley to a point near Bermuda Dunes. Indian Wells might have become a beach town! Hayward's home would have been under sixty feet of water! The Southern Pacific Railroad might have been ruined. With water lapping at the hills on both sides of the valley ... they may have had no place to go.

So they made a deal, with Teddy Roosevelt and pulled out all the stops to save their bacon (oops, I mean their railroad.) As a last resort they built a trestle across the strewn at the break and gathered enormous quantities of fill material and rock at the site. Then came the big try. Thousands of tons of rock were dumped, most of it disappearing into the soft material of the streambed. Then the finale. The last trainloads of rock were dumped, cars and all and the flood was stopped! A. 0. Hayward's house was saved.

At its greatest height the water came within a quarter mile of Mecca. It touched the railroad embankment just below Mecca and at several other spots. The Salt Creek trestle, near the southern limits of the present state park was less than five feet above the water, and the water was several feet deep under the trestle. Hence, one of the wildest stories remaining about the episode is that dining car stewards took to throwing garbage in that water as the trains passed over the trestle and that fish came for the garbage. It is claimed that the fish learned to recognize the vibrations of approaching trains and came to meet them for the feast! That much I can believe. But it is also said that the f`sh learned to recognize the different vibrations given off by the freight trains and didn't bother to meet them! Don't blame me, old timers swear this is true.

Snakes also became a problem. Although the area has never been too badly beset with snakes, the slowly rising waters pushed the snakes ahead of them. We used to hear some wild stories of the "hundreds" of snakes that were thus concentrated. Some of these stories were undoubtedly exaggerations but perhaps not too much so at that!

The waters subsided, about seven feet the first year, five feet the second year, and slightly less each year thereafter. Low ridges of sand marking each year's regrowth of desert brush in the area southeast of Mecca told this story until development obliterated them. The water, fresh water from the river, rapidly became salty. The lower portions of the Salton Sink contained great quantities of salt. The waters absorbed the salt from the lands it overran. By summer of 1914 the waters were so salty that fish that had come with the river waters were dying. The shores south of Mecca (the water was about three miles away by that time) were bestrewn with dying carp and bass, many of them up to three and four pounds in weight. The stench was real, but no one lived nearby to care.

Ducks were to be had with reasonable effort in flight over much of the lower portion of the valley, but not without effort on the water. The land was so flat, and the soils so soggy that one had to wade through deep mud for a quarter of a mile or more to get to the water. Along the railroad east of the sea, and in the more sandy areas on the west side, where several developments are now, swimming was good, for the few who were there to swim. On the west side one could wade out quite a distance to find deep water, but along the east side, the slopes were steeper and one could dive in from the shore. In this area, in the late teens, telegraph poles still stood along the old submerged railroad alignment, their cross-arms just above the water, providing a diving platform for any who wished to swim out, not over a hundred yards, to them. This was in the portion now in the State Park where the slopes are steepest, near old Salton Station. We seldom enjoyed this, however, because roads were almost nonexistant, and cars of that day needed at least two pushers. You could go by horse-drawn vehicle. A picnic to Salton was an all day affair.

The old A. 0. Hayward house still stands, about two hundred yards west of State Highway 86 at Avenue 57, a silent monument to those few hundred settlers who could watch the Sea creeping toward them, and go right on "shingling the roof".

Chapter 8 

MUDPOTS, GEYSERS AND MULLET ISLAND

The five buttes around the Salton Sea's southeast shoreline are thought to be extinct volcanoes. It was 1898 when Captain Charles E. Davis, so-called Monarch of Mullet Island, made camp on one of those dead volcanic buttes. To the north stretched a dry, barren, white waste known as the Salton Sink; to the south lay an inferno of hissing geysers and boiling mud pots. There was scarcely another white man in all the region which would ultimately be known as Imperial Valley. Not until seven years later would the Salton Sea transform that rocky knoll into Mullet Island.

Charles Davis was born in Massachusetts, the son of wealthy parents. Servants took care of his every need, and he was expected to follow a gentlemanly career. He shocked his family by signing on as an ordinary seaman with Sol Jacob's Atlantic fishing fleet. By the time he was eighteen, he had won the rating of captain, and he used that title for the rest of his life.

When the fishing industry went into a decline, Captain Davis wandered west in search of adventure. The Alaska gold stampede of 1898 took him to the Klondike. Evidently he was not particularly lucky, for he returned to the states, going first to Texas, and losing everything except his life in a disastrous flood at Galveston in 1900. In 1905 he was back at his old campsite on the volcanic butte. His nephew, Walter Davis, said, "Uncle Charles had just gotten nicely located and was recovering from the effects of the Galveston flood when the Colorado River decided to leave its banks and flood the Salton Sink."

 

Captain Charles E. Davis and his Hell's Kichen Cafe, Dance Hall and Boat Landing

Mullet Island Scene

Captain Davis was intrigued with the idea of living on a dead volcano 200 feet below sea level, and even before the wild water had been brought under control he had acquired the butte, now become an island, and had begun construction of his cabin. A hand-painted sign propped against the building proclaimed that this was Hell's Kitchen.

In 1908 he built the boat landing, cafe and dance hall, which were to flourish for nearly a quarter century under his management. During those years, Captain Davis seined and sold his "alfalfa-fed mullet", battled for the conservation of natural resources, released his imported sea lions, launched a stillborn showboat, made a scientific study of the mud pots, acted as game warden, prepared and served shore dinners, took part in county politics, emceed his dances, rented boats to duck hunters and vacationists and roared sea chanties to the delight of friends and visiting celebrities. Clearly several of these activities require explanation!

Imperial Valley residents, interviewed in 1952 for an article by Nell Murbarger which was published in the Palm Springs Villager, remembered Davis as a perfect host. He had a marvelous baritone voice and would sit at the piano for hours, roaring out those old sea chanties and mining camp ballads. He operated Hell's Kitchen as a cafe, dance hall and boat landing, and drove an old white truck completely covered with pictures of game birds that he had painted himself, using the natural pigments of the Indian paint pots dissolved in fish oil. He painted all his buildings with the same mixture. He used to buy alfalfa hay by the ton and feed it to the fish from his boat dock. Folks came from all over the valley to buy his "alfalfa-fed mullet". Sometimes he'd smoke cure it and take a big load to Los Angeles where he would stand at the comer of Eighth and Broadway and hand out samples. He believed that pelicans planted mullet in the inland Salton Sea when they flew in for safety in stormy weather with a pouch full of emergency rations!

One time he purchased a big fishing barge from a drydock in San Pedro and trucked it all the way to his landing. He was going to convert it into sort of a Mississippi River showboat with moonlight excursions and music and dancing. It sank as soon as he put it in the water, and that was that. Another time he got the idea of planting sea lions in the Salton Sea. The climate didn't agree with them and they disappeared one by one. One newspaper clipping reported that farmers suspected that the sea lions were coming out of the sea at night and stealing their pigs!

It would seem that these various projects would keep a man from boredom, but in 1927 Captain Davis became intensely interested in the story of the ill-fated Donner party, who suffered unspeakable hardships on the overland trail to California in 1845 and who perished in the snows of the Sierras that winter. The captain was a painter, and the tragedies of the Donner party were portrayed in large oil paintings displayed on easels around the interior of his establishment. They were extremely realistic, if somewhat primitive, and were certainly an incongruity in that setting of gurgling mud pots, geysers and old volcanoes. Davis actually retraced the entire 2,000 mile trip from Independence, Missouri to Fort Sutter, and the thousands of artifacts, newspaper clippings, photographs, maps and records, even animal skeletons he collected are on display at Sutter's Fort Museum. The overflow he brought back to Hell's Kitchen, to add to the decor there.

Marcia Rittenhouse Winn, writing for Westways in February 1975, tells of going to live on Mullet Island in the mid-1920s. It wasn't really an island then but was connected to the mainland by a rough dirt road. In 1925 her stepfather, Harry Siegfried, acquainted with the owners of the Southern Sierras Power Company, was made president of the newly-organized Frontier Development Company, which, though actually a subsidiary of the power company, was not publicly associated with it in any way. It was all very hush-hush. At that stage the company was not certain that steam power could be developed on a commercial basis, but the initial reports were encouraging.

"The hissing of steam and the gurgling that came up from some mysterious subterranean discontent were to be an ever present reminder that we were sitting on top of volcanic ground, whose steam vents man could not turn off," said Ms. Winn. The geysers kept a thin layer of moisture on top of the surrounding silt in all seasons. Occasionally there were visits from geologists, scientists, Boy Scout groups and others who came to marvel at the paint (mud) pots and the steaming mud geysers. Ms. Winn quite accurately described her one-room cement walled home as "next to Hell's Kitchen". Duck hunting and fishing supplemented their canned food diet. Only on the days immediately after a trip into Calipatria, thirteen miles away, did they enjoy ice, fresh vegetables and meat.

Drilling operations began March 18, 1927. It was a small-bore test well. On reaching a depth of a little over 700 feet they ran into very hot strata of steam and water, and it was decided that further progress with so small a hole was impossible. The well continued to blow steam and water for eighteen months. Well No. 2 came in on December 1, after a depth of 1,000 feet was reached. It blew in with such violence that for a time it looked like the top of the crater would blow off. It blew uncontrollably for three hours, then plugged. During this volcanic disgorgement it was estimated that over 300 tons of hot mud, exploded shale, pebbles and rock dust were thrown out over the derrick and the top of the island. The force of the explosion and the pressure caused the eight-inch steel casing to bend and twist off, resulting in the plug. During the following weeks, after the well plugged, attempts were made to drill deeper, bypassing the twisted steel and putting down a new smaller casing. Although they drilled to a total depth of 1,263 feet, the well was never satisfactorily brought in. A third well was drilled to a depth of 1,473 feet, but the company decided at this point to go no deeper, and the effort to produce high pressure natural dry steam was abandoned. There was an air of mystery surrounding the whole drilling operation.

The first commercial geothermal well was brought in January 1, 1964, near Niland and a few miles north of Calipatria. This 8100-foot well sent brine and steam rushing to the surface just two and a half months after operations began. The prime objective was to explore the potential of these steam geysers to provide and generate electricity. According to scientists who have studied the area, the Imperial Valley has one of the largest geo-thermal potentials in the world. In times past, a great oozing mass of magma rose in a dome-like structure close to the surface of the now imperial Valley. What vents there were became plugged with hardening obsidian. These plugged vents have kept a great deal of heat close to the surface. In the Imperial Valley there are perhaps 25 square miles of high temperature porous rock associated with an underground sea of very hot brine which must have a source of heat deep in the earth. Evidence indicates that the brine is a combination of water released as the magma cools and an active ore solution containing untold tonnages of mineral salts and metals, including copper, manganese, lithium and silver. These impurities in the steam can cause problems for the turbines, but if a successful way can be found to separate these minerals, they will represent another source of wealth. A drive west from highway 111, between Niland and Calipatria reveals massive structures already utilizing this remarkable natural resource from below the Salton Sea.

Mullet Island can now be reached by boat from Red Hill Marina. Occasional bubbles rise to the surface from the mud pots which once bubbled merrily for the visitors to Hell's Kitchen. No doubt Captain Davis would be pleased to know that the Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge has been established almost at his backdoor, where magnificent geese and many other waterfowl feed on fields of alfalfa planted just for them. It is a fitting salute to a man who so painstakingly covered the old trails west to help preserve the record of the Donner Party.

Chapter 9

SEA OF DREAMS

A recent movie gave us the unforgettable line, "If we build it, the people will come," referring to the dream to build a baseball field. It was true of the inspiration provided by the Salton Sea, which moved men and women to build the places described in this chapter.

Date Palm Beach

In 1926 a man with a dream came to the Salton Sea. Seeing beyond the barren stretches of sand, he fell in love with the blue water and the tan and purple mountains, and he envisioned fun loving, sun-loving people finding health, relaxation and entertainment on its shores. The man was Gus Eilers and with John Goldthwaite, a Bay area promoter, he secured land from the Southern Pacific Railroad on the North Shore, down toward the sea from the old train stop at Mortmar. It was 250 feet below sea level.

They called their location Date Palm Beach, and planned to develop it using an Egyptian motif. Stationery and folders spoke of a place "mysteriously enchanting, teeming with adventure." Streets were laid out and named. A main building, as imposing as a Near East palace, was pictured.

Eilers described his early years at the beach when his only companion was a pelican named "Pete". He said, "I chugged and boiled down to the beach in an old Model-T from Mecca. It was just a trail and you never knew when you were going to get stuck out there in the middle of nowhere. I hauled all my water from Mecca. I guess in the first few months I was there I didn't see more than four or five people at the beach. I lived in a tent for a good while and didn't even start the first building until 1930. My family stayed in Los Angeles until my two children, Henry and June (Eilers) Hall, were through high school."

Eilers built a small building and a pier out into the water, and began coaxing outboard motor boat racers to the sea. They came, they raced, and they loved it! But, Gus Eiler's oriental paradise was not to be. In 1929 the stock market crashed, and with it the partnership of Eilers and Goldthwaite. Eilers was not to be discouraged. He simply changed the plans for his dream community. He brought in two of the Olympic Village cottages from Los Angeles in 1932, the first of his guest houses, and he built a 200 ft. pier where motor boats were tied up and kept year round. Date Palm Beach was the place where the official electric timing clock for boat racing was first used.

June and Henry moved down in 1934 to help with the family business. Mrs. Eilers served meals in the rustic community building and loyally used Coachella Valley products-grapefruit juice squeezed to order, date bread with salads and date torte for dessert. The largest crowds came when Camp Young was in operation, during World War U. Eilers said, "We announced that all soldiers could have free swims and we had as many as 500 men a day, with a total of about 150,000 taking advantage of our offer. Patton himself often visited the resort. Incidentally, I got a son-in-law out of the deal, Sgt. Cameron Hall of the Signal Corps in Gen. Patton's Army. He married my daughter, June."

National attention had focused on Date Palm Beach many times. Several movies were filmed there--"Five Graves to Cairo" and parts of "They Were Expendable" and at least two Abbot and Costello pictures. Film stars entertained by the Eilers included Al Jolson, Brian Ahern, and Ronald Coleman. In 1946, Eilers sold his resort to C. Roy Hunter, and moved to his ranch near Mecca. Hunter renamed the location Desert Beach, and a new dream was given substance!

Desert Beach

In a Desert Barnacle article of June 13, 1946, Hunter said, "We (his sons Robert and Kenneth Hunter, and J.S. Stein) are just a bunch of ex-sailors who can't stay away from salt water, so we're going to 'go to sea' on Salton Sea at Eilers' Beach." Hunter himself was in the Navy when Teddy Roosevelt sent the United States Fleet around the world in 1907-08-09. His son, Robert Hunter, for years a cameraman with Fox Studios, was just out of the Navy, having served as a Chief Photographer's Mate. J. B. Stein, another associate in the beach project, was a Merchant Marine Captain. Hunter's other son, Kenneth, was a technician with Technicolor. Hunter, himself, who owned the Royal Date Garden in Indio, was one of the nation's most celebrated cinematographers. He served 20 years as chief cameraman for Universal and then 10 years in the same capacity with Paramount pictures.

On a shopping trip to San Francisco, Hunter was in a ship chandler's office. Asked if he would like to buy a beautiful old wheel off a US battleship, he replied, "I would if you had the wheel off the battleship 'Nebraska', because I sailed around the world on her."

"I've got it," exclaimed the ship chandler. It was a beautiful mahogany and maple wheel with the nameplate " Nebraska" set in it. Hunter bought it and installed it in the clubhouse, renamed "The Wheelhouse." Hunter told the reporter covering his new purchase, "We are very enthusiastic about prospects for the beach down here. Salton Sea is destined to become one of the nation's greatest play spots." He certainly did his best to make it that. The Desert Beach Yacht Club had reciprocal privileges with other clubs up and down the coast. A card from the Portland Yacht Club is in the Historical Society files, attesting to the welcome of Desert Beach Yacht Club members at its Club House and Moorings.

But success eluded the Hunter enterprise. Fed by run-off agricultural waste water, and floodwaters from a series of unusually heavy rain storms, the sea began to rise in 1948, and by 1953 the improvements at Desert Beach were awash. When Hunter had begun improving Desert Beach, the fear was that the sea would recede, so he built his clubhouse as close to the sea as possible and dredged out a small harbor. Buildings were mostly of cement block construction, on cement slab floors, and not movable. Title to the land included a guarantee by the Imperial Irrigation District, given in 1915, that the sea would not rise above 238 feet below sea level. In May of 1950, the sea was more than a foot above that mark.

C. Roy Hunter died before a lawsuit brought against the Coachella Valley County Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District was decided. Superior Court Judge Bertram Janes awarded $188,000 to the Desert Beach owners in 1960. Judge Janes held that the flooding from 1951 to 1955 was 39% the fault of the CV district and 61% the fault of the Imperial Irrigation District. Salton Sea was referred to in the national press as "The Cruel Sea."

Eiler's Date Palm Beach Resort, established in 1927 was the forerunner of Salton Sea resorts. It flourished until the rising sea took its toll.

North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, opened in 1962, was the show piece of what was to be a 2 million dollar marine paradise - the largest marina in Southern California

North Shore Beach and Yacht Club

It was 1958 when developer Ray Ryan and Trav Rogers bought the land that is now the town of North Shore. They began selling plots of land for homes and in 1960 began building the North Shore Motel and the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, which opened in 1962. It was described as a $2 million marine paradise with one of the largest marinas in Southern California. Gladys Fei, publisher of North Shore News, says that for the next decade, North Shore was a "swinging" place. Ray Ryan's oil millions backed a very unique Yacht Club in the middle of the desert. Mrs. Fei says, "This was a very, very popular place. The Beach Boys would come out. And Jerry Lewis had a boat here, and so did the Marx Brothers. There were big boat races, and parties and dances. Clubs and organizations from all over the Coachella Valley came for meetings and parties."

Like most of the other locations around the Salton Sea, fluctuating water levels and flooding created problems. In 1981, North Shore suffered from a severe flood which wiped out the jetty at the yacht club, making it impossible for boats to dock there. The main clubhouse was closed and has yet to reopen. Homes dot the hills above the water, their residents either retired or commuted to valley cities for work. The views are spectacular and it remains to be seen whether or not a solution to the high salinity problem will bring back this once glamorous resort.

Salton Sea State Park

Continuing down the eastern side of the sea, just south of North Shore, Salton Sea State Park comes into view. At its dedication on February 12, 1955, it was noted that it was the second largest in the state, and would probably be the greatest single spur to the development of the Salton Sea as a great inland recreational area.

Curiously enough, comments made at a 1947 Coachella Valley Union High School faculty picnic at the approximate site of the present park headquarters on Hwy 111, led to action by the Coachella Valley Sports League that culminated in the establishment of this new state park. Forty years before, in 1907, a commission formed to study the sea concluded gravely that the sea would gradually evaporate and cease to exist in 18 years. Scientists are willing to admit that there was an error in the original calculations! Efforts by Coachella Valley groups, and the Riverside Board of Supervisors to interest the State Park Commission and the Division of Beaches and Parks succeeded. It was in November 1949 that authorization to negotiate for lands was given. The original development consisted of 510 acres leased from Imperial Irrigation District. Water was obtained from the All-American Canal, through an agreement with the Coachella Valley County Water District. Work on the park started in July 1952 and on February 12, 1955 more than 1,000 people attended ceremonies dedicating the new park. At the time of the dedication the park service had 1,880 acres under lease, plans for extension into Imperial County and was envisioning a sea shore frontage of 17 miles. Since that time, facilities have been continuously improved and expanded, and a truly wonderful recreational opportunity has been placed at the disposal of visitors year-round. Almost 50 years later, this dream for the sea continues to give pleasure to thousands of visitors every year.

Bombay Beach

Typical of several private developments along both the east and west sides of the sea is Bombay Beach, about fourteen miles south of the state park. A permanent community of small beach homes and mobile homes is swelled in the winter by retirees in motor homes seeking the sun and good fishing. Their dreams are fulfilled here.

Salton City

Probably the most ambitious of the Salton Sea developments is Salton City, founded in the late 1950s by A Penn Phillips, fresh from successfully developing the high desert community of Hesperia. Busloads of prospective residents were brought in to see and buy in this state-of-the art planned community. It was described as a "wondrous playground of swimming pools, beaches, harbors and golf courses." An article in the Indio Daily News of September 29, 1964 states that $20,000,000 had already been spent establishing a vast network of roads, sewer lines, power lines and water mains. Some 15,000 persons already owned property in this new city according to the Holly Corporation, which took over the project in 1961. The first nine holes of a championship golf course were opened in 1963, and construction of the second nine holes was begun. A brochure pictured professional golfer, Tommy Bolt, on the course as one of the professional tournaments was underway there. Golfers Desi Arnaz, Harry James, Johnny Weissmuller, Johnny Dawson and Ellsworth Vines all praised the golf course. Showpiece of the development was the $500,000 Salton Bay Yacht Club. A 3,500 foot landing strip was built immediately as part of a proposed complete airpark. Commercial buildings including a large motel, restaurant, service stations and stores were built. District News, published by the Imperial Irrigation District, in their June 1959 issue, concluded in their article entitled "Miracle Salton City by the Desert Sea", that every factor indicated that Salton City's growth should continue to accelerate, resulting in the most popular sea resort in all of Southern California.

It was not to be. Although many lots were sold, few homes were built. The fluctuating sea, and the condition of the water made it less attractive to water-skiers, swimmers and fishermen. In the 1970s, Linda Dresser, widow of developer Arthur Dresser, took over the former Holly House restaurant and turned it into a casino, catering to the 10,000 plus motorists passing Salton City daily on Highway 86. A newspaper article of March 21, 1976 called the casino a shot in the arm for Salton City, but the stimulus was only temporary. The casino sits abandoned and the yacht club is in ruins, partly underwater. Salton City's present day residents love their relatively small community, where a Par 3 Golf Course is a popular replacement for the tournament courses envisioned by the original developer, but the city is a far cry from the dream of M. Penn Phillips. The setting remains as beautiful as ever, and when the time is right, Salton City may become all it was intended to be.

Salton Sea Beach-Helen's Beach House

Helen Burns first came to the Salton Sea as a child. Her father had purchased property on the western shore in the 1920s and in a 1985 interview she told a reporter, "I never saw anything so beautiful. The sun was shining, the sand was white, and I knew this was the place I wanted to live." After graduating from San Diego State and living several years in Hawaii, she returned in 1947 to her father's land by the sea. There was no electricity and water had to be hauled from two miles away, but she and her two daughters, aged 4 and 6 months old, made it home. Helen's Beach House grew from a small snack and souvenir stand she planted at the edge of the sea. She told of driving a beat-up Chevrolet truck to Indio for ice-a 28 mile run. She said, "I used to throw wet towels and sheets over the lids to keep them cool." Back at the beach, it took hours to chisel the huge ice blocks into small chunks that cooled the soft drinks at her snack shack.

Many of Helen's first customers were undocumented workers from Mexico, making their way into the valley to find work. In the 1950s tourists and real estate speculators began coming to the sea, and Helen's Beach House was the place to go. There was a steady stream of cars pulling boats and trailers to Helen's on Friday night. It had grown into a restaurant, nightclub and boat marina. Helen threw parties for the crowds. There were luaus, jam sessions, beauty contests, long-distance swimming events and speedboat races. People came in their RVs. Water skiers flocked to Helen's place to participate in the competitions she arranged, with as many as 150 contestants taking part. In 1958 she began to publish a small newspaper, the Salton Seafarer, designed to bring the communities around the sea closer together and to keep the image of the sea before the public. Anything that had to do with fighting for the Salton Sea, she did.

Three times the Beach House moved inland because the sea lapped over its foundations. When it burned on June 28, 1979, her daughter, Donna, a staff writer for the Press-Enterprise, described the first hours after the fire in these words, "In the first hours after the fire, Helen did consider giving up. When she returned to the rubble of her restaurant, she saw her usual beach crowd sitting on burned benches drinking beer. Friends and neighbors, among them retired builders and electricians, had dumped loads of sand in the flooded areas of her beach front, built an awning of palm fronds onto a small temporary building, hooked up electricity and water and brought in a sound system. Old-timers, dancing in the sand under the stars the night after the fire said it was just like Helen's place in the '40s."

Helen Burns died of a heart attack on May 31, 1994, delaying a trip to the hospital until she completed work on the June edition of her newspaper. "The last thought on her mind was to get the paper out in time for the election", said her daughter, Donna. More than 300 friends and family gathered for a memorial service at the water's edge at Salton Sea Beach, on the sands Helen loved, to bid goodbye to this energetic, dedicated lady.

Palm frond-covered building is Helen's Beach House as it appeared in the 1950s and 1960s

Desert Shores

Just north of Salton Sea Beach on the west side of the sea, is the community now called Desert Shores. If you happen to look for this spot on an old map, what you will see is Fish Springs, so named for the small fish that surfaced in the wells there. Developers in the early '50s, before good fishing was established in the sea, thought the appeal of boating and water-skiing was a better drawing card. They changed the name and promoted the area as an attractive week-end get-away location. When corvina and other game fish were established in the sea, Desert Shores became very popular as a fishing spot. A five-fingered marina was built at the water's edge, and mobile homes lined its waterfront lots. A residential community was developed between the sea and Highway 99 (now called Highway 86).

The property up the slope from the sea has continued to be a safe home to commuters from jobs in the upper Coachella Valley, as well as retirees and weekenders. Unfortunately, the waterfront property has suffered from the rising of the sea. Wind-whipped waves, crashing over the concrete block embankments built by residents to protect themselves, became an all too familiar sight. Desert Shores participates in the Community Services District which includes Salton City and Salton Sea Beach, and its residents, too, look forward to the day when fluctuations of the water level and the high salinity problems of the sea will be things of the past, and this beautiful area will enjoy well-deserved popularity.

And the dream go on--

While the communities mentioned here represent concrete expressions of the dreams people have dreamed for this unique inland sea, many, many others have expressed ideas for its preservation and use. The Coachella Valley Historical Society received in 1994 a box of clippings and correspondence from Miss Mary Taberoff, a resident of Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s, and the owner of property near the sea. It was a fascinating account of her dreams for the sea and her persistence in seeking help from everyone from local residents and officials to President Lyndon Johnson and members of his government. She envisioned a four-lane highway around the sea, sand moved down from the upper valley to create beaches, planted to native palm trees, and elaborate hotels with helicopter service to Palm Springs. She was greatly concerned with the environmental impact of energy development at the south end of the sea, and with the deteriorating quality of the water. Fortunately, in 1994, Saving the Sea is again in the public eye, and hopefully action will be taken to turn dreams into reality for this great natural resource.

READY FOR REGATTA--Sponsors of events in the 14th annual national championship Salton Sea Regatta, which will be held October 16, 17, and 18, are shown here with the trophies which they will award to winners. They are (from left) Roy C. Ruby of the Pen-Go-Inn Motel; Joseph Zaboy, Valley Motors; Morris Garth, Morris Lincoln-Mercury; Charles Gillett, Plaza Hotel; Kenny strickland, Union Oil Station; Helen Burns, Salton Sea Beach Resorts; J. Garwood, Garwood's Oasis Station; Kay Olesen, Imperial Motors; Frank Cavanaugh, Cavanaugh Electric; Charles J. Wameling, Desert Bank; Howard Carr, president of the Indio Lions Club, and Mrs. Roy C. Ruby. Two other donors, Hilma Lawrence and Maurice W. Johnson of the Sans Souci Restaurant, are not shown. --Gillman Photo

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