For fifty years, California City has lured young dreamers, jaded city dwellers and disenfranchised classes with the promise of owning land in California – investment property, silence and an affordable roof over one’s head. But California City is a far cry from the dream of land developer Nat Mendelsohn, who in 1958, bought 80,000 acres of land in the Mojave Desert and designed his dream city. Mendelsohn intended to attract overflow from the population boom taking place in Southern California by offering a city which rivaled Los Angeles in scale and scope. Speculative land sales soared in the first decade of California City’s existence, but houses were not erected and industry never arrived. Today, California City is the state’s third largest geographic city (35th largest in the United States) with a population of merely 13,123. It is a vast plan of crumbling, unnamed roads reaching deeply into the desert, slowly – very slowly, being reclaimed by the land into which it is carved. California City and its residents are the embodiment of the American dream unrealized yet not vanquished.
Over the course of eight weeks in the late winter of 2011, Hollye Chapman uncovered the story of California City through the lens of her camera. The result is a beautifully executed body of work exemplifying the serenity, desperation, contentment and resignation of a city which has failed to reach its goals, but refuses to disappear.