Throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s, tourists came in droves to the sea with annual visitations sometimes surpassing those at Yosemite National Park. Fishing, swimming, boat racing, water-skiing, golf, and partying were popular recreational activities. Real estate developers took notice and schemed to cash in on would-be investors.
The area’s most ambitious commercial real estate development was M. Penn Philip’s Salton City, a planned resort community along the sea’s western shore that was eventually purchased by the sugar manufacturer, Holly Corporation in 1961. Begun in the mid-1950s, Salton City was marketed as the “West's Greatest Playground” and aggressively promoted as an “investor’s dream.”
The “Salton Riviera” covered more than 19,600 acres including subdivision house lots with plans for shops, schools, parks, churches and other community amenities. Developers spent more than $1 million on 260 miles of fresh water lines, paved 250 miles of roads, and installed electrical services. When Salton City opened in 1958, sales topped $4.25 million, with nearly 32,000 residential units selling between 1958 and 1964. The crown jewel of the development was the now demolished $500,000 Salton Bay Yacht Club. Designed by the renowned architect, Albert Frey, the structure provided a wonderful, if not kitchy example of mid-century desert modernism with its octagonal clubhouse, boat-launching facility, pool, and motel.
In 1963, the first nine holes of the eighteen-hole $350,000 PGA Salton City Golf Course opened attracting a variety of celebrity golfers such as Desi Arnaz, Harry James, and Johnny Weissmuller. Other visiting stars and statesmen included Frank Sinatra, Linda Darnell, and Dwight Eisenhower.
But by the late 1970s attendance numbers began to dwindle due to the sea’s steadily intensifying environmental problems; most notably shoreline flooding resulting from above average seasonal rainfall and ever-increasing wastewater inflows from the Imperial Valley’s abundant agricultural economy. By then it was clear that the planned leisure communities of the Salton Sea would soon go under. Consequently, many of the homeowners and businesses were forced to abandon their abject holdings when property values plummeted and the local economy crashed during the 1980s.
With the more recent real estate upswing of the mid-2000s, Salton City once again experienced a short-lived housing boom only to fail when the bubble burst in 2008. An Indian casino run by the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians opened shortly thereafter. The 2010 U.S. census listed the population of Salton City at 3,763, up from 978 in 2000.
In 2012, Riverside and Imperial county officials gave the green light to Travertine Point, a planned housing and commercial development capable of providing homes and services to upwards 40,000 people. The town plan developed by Black Emerald LLC and the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians will cover nearly 5,000 acres mostly in Riverside County and includes 16,000 homes and five million square feet of proposed commercial space. Located at the northwest tip of the Salton Sea, Travertine Point is twenty miles from any existing services.Click here to view the Salton City portfolio.