June 21, 2013

Photo Essay: Abandoned Sugar Factory, Betteravia

I just can't do most things the way other people do them.

I weekend in Vegas, and I don't gamble. I hike.

I vacation in Joshua Tree, and I don't rockclimb. I explore abandoned mines.

I roadtrip up to Santa Barbara, and I don't do much winetasting, or even spend much time in Santa Barbara at all. I drive right through it, an hour and a half north of it, to an abandoned company town near Santa Maria, CA.

Betteravia, CA was built in 1897 as a company town for factory workers from the Union Sugar Company, which operated a beer sugar refinery along Betteravia Road.

Although the town population never surpassed a few hundred residents, there were all the attractions and amenities of a real town - hotel, church, school, post office, fire department - in addition to the cottages where the workers and their families lived.

The Pacific Coast Railway ran right through Santa Maria and Betteravia all the way to Guadalupe, operating along the Central Coast until 1925.

When the railroad ceased operations, the sugar mill closed...

...but then reopened eight years later in 1934.

By the 1950s, Union Sugar no longer wanted to operate an entire town, so they shut Betteravia down, evicting its residents and selling off or demolishing property.

Hardly anything remains of Betteravia...except the sugar refinery...

...with its huge tanks...

...and smokestacks.

The entire campus is fenced off, but I got in.

I was constantly worried about my car, or getting caught...

...but nobody was around.

Barely any cars drove by on Betteravia Road. Where would they be going, anyway?

Even the vandals seem to have stayed away...

...with any existing graffiti appearing nearly as antique and weathered as the rusting, creaking factory itself.

The corrugated sheet metal siding ached and flapped in the wind at a deafening volume, threatening certain instability and possible collapse.

But farther out, it was quiet and still...

...the only disturbances credited to the birds.

I explored only the ground level, not climbing the rusty ladders up the tower...

...nor descending into anything.

But still, there were plenty of curiosities to behold.

A warehouse held nothing inside but what appeared to be junk and perhaps construction materials...

...yet displayed a garden of railway signals on its lawn.

Some of the tracks have been covered, but it's clear that the rail went right through this property...

...perhaps for both delivery and retrieval of goods.

Inside one of the silos...

...a giant funnel - resembling something like a grain elevator - suggests a final processing locale for the sugar and its packing...

...while a number of switches on a panel suggest some kind of control room.

In 1986, decades after Bettaravia had already been rendered a ghost town, Holly Sugar purchased Union Sugar.

In 1988, Imperial Sugar purchased Holly Sugar, creating the new Imperial Holly Sugar.

That year, there was a big dust explosion that proved fatal to seven factory workers, with one additional suffering non-fatal injuries.

Imperial Holly finally closed in 1993. Later that decade, a few other structures were demolished.

No one ever came to shoo me away. No one looked when I walked by, not even those in the scrap metal shop across the way.

And hopefully my tiptoeing ensured that no one will be able to notice I was ever there.

Related Posts:
The Road to Nowhere
Photo Essay: Amargosa Opera House & Hotel, Death Valley Junction


  1. I liveed in Betteravia CA. I was ,7 and left when I was 13. My Dad worked more than 30 years for the Sugar Compan. I had a wonderful childhood. Jack ran the General store and Betty was our Post Master. We had a church 2 parks and a volunteer fire department. I would love to see pictures of the old town and school. The school looked as though it had been closed for a while when we moved there. Debby Beckett Oldest daughter of Gordon Beckett.

    1. Lois borden abbottJuly 15, 2022 at 11:28 AM

      would love to hear from someone that lived there 1959-60!!!!

  2. lois borden abbottJuly 14, 2022 at 12:34 PM

    We lived in the hotel in Betteravia in 1959-60. My husband was in the AIR FORCE stationed at Vandenberg AFB. WHAT MEMORIES!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. lois borden abbottJuly 14, 2022 at 12:36 PM

    Anyone lived in Betteravia 1959-60. Husband in the Air Force maybe?????

  4. worked with gordon asst master mech. (good man)

  5. There are some erroneous information on the article about Betteravia that was posted, I lived there from 1956 to 1968 and also worked until they closed the factory and nobody died in the explosion