March 10, 2014

Photo Essay: Llano Del Rio Company Colony, Abandoned

When driving east down Pearblossom Highway — which takes you through the Antelope Valley on your way to Victorville, one of the secret ways to Vegas from LA — you encounter a whole lot of nothing for a while, and then a sign for the town of Llano, population just over 1100. 

If you're not looking for it, you might miss the cobbled granite ruins of the former colony of Llano Del Rio.

Incorporated in 1914 by a socialist political candidate who'd lost his bid to become mayor of LA three years prior, Llano Del Rio (the "plain by the river") was built as a utopian colony to house 60 settler families. While 900 total single men and women and married men and their families were originally sought through print advertising and other local outreach, at its peak, the colony grew to nearly 1000 aspiring utopians.

They were promised land and water and machinery and expertise in nearly every field, every member a shareholder in the enterprise — ironically, a capitalist technique.

The circular city plan included a school (the first Montessori school in California) and many other amenities and facilities of a real functioning town (plus a fish hatchery!), all built of local granite and lumber.

But Llano is far from Los Angeles or any other thriving metropolitan community, and back then, it was really in the middle of nowhere.

Despite having a hotel with a popular dance floor, it didn't turn out to be as luxurious as the settlers were promised.

They were isolated and discontented.

Even though they were able to transform the dry soil into fertile farmland...

...they really could only grow what they could consume, being located too far from any train depot to export their agricultural goods.

In 1918, there was enough dissent and opposing factions amongst the settlers that the colony collapsed...

...and most of its residents abandoned the site... relocate to New Llano, Louisiana.

There are signs of life there at Llano Del Rio...

...though probably left behind by urban explorers and squatters of more recent days past.

Much of what now visibly remains...

...appears to have stored water...

...which they got from nearby Big Rock Creek... an aqueduct, a cistern, well, or silo.

Not surprisingly, though, lack of water — common in this area, but also because they were denied their application for a permit to build a dam to collect more water reserves because of the settlers' lack of experience and expertise in the matter — was one of the biggest forces that drove Llano Del Rio's residents out.

Some of the rock walls remain...

...but none of their corrugated metal roofs...

...or wooden and adobe cottages.

Just rubble...

...some concrete slabs...

...and, this time of year, wildflowers.

Llano Del Rio is landmarked as the site of the most important non-religious Utopian experiment in western American history, where people could live cooperatively, rather than competitively. But it doesn't feel very idealistic. In ruins, it appears like a military base or a government facility, a company town or even a Boy Scout camp. There's something very institutional about it.

It's also been terribly neglected. When it was landmarked in the early 80s, its historical marker was stolen two weeks later and never replaced.

These days, development threatens it, including plans to widen Highway 138, and the growing need for housing in the area as Lancaster and Palmdale grow and run out of real estate.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Stough Canyon & Old Youth Campground

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