50 States... Or Less


The Salton Sea

A stagnant lake full of dead fish... no wait that makes it sound bad
North Shore Yacht Club Now The newly restored yacht club designed by Albert Frey

We both love the desert around Palm Springs, we got married there. Back around the time of the wedding we took a trip down to Salton Sea expecting not to find much after the stories of fish die offs and meth production. Perhaps I’d better rewind a bit for some context here.

The Salton Sea used to be unambiguously awesome, the speedboat paradise of Sinatra and friends. The shore was peppered with fantastic yacht clubs, bars and restaurants and was called Palm-Springs-By-The-Sea. the North Shore Yacht Club was even designed by Albert Frey, one of our favorite architects.

The “sea” was created in 1905 when a canal dike from the Colorado river broke and started flooding the formerly non lakeish Salton valley very quickly. Amazingly, it took 2 years to stop the flow of water and by the time they did there was a new lake that covered 375 sq miles, making it the largest lake in California. Unfortunately it didn’t have an outlet, so the water became increasingly saline. The last straw came in the 70s when a series of floods washed more and more agricultural runoff into the lake making it inhospitable to boats and fish. The glory days were over.

North Shore Yacht Club Before This was the state of the yacht club before restoration as we last saw it it 2006.

For us the sea was a photography paradise, with loads of decaying buildings and a beautiful, almost perfectly reflective lake surface. But none of the buildings were more amazing and simultaneously sad as the North Shore Yacht Club. Built by Frey in 1962, it was the center of the action. But over the years its fate mirrored that of the lake and it fell in to complete disrepair. Last time we were there it was covered in graffiti and boarded up. I didn’t expect it to last much longer.

But sure enough as we pulled through town it was like there was a bubble around the yacht club. It was in perfect shape, unlike everything around it, like it was reverse aging. Amazingly Riverside county set aside a pile of cash to restore it and awarded the contract to a local architect who had worked with other Frey buildings. Sadly the Motel building next door and the old Texaco marine gas sign is now gone but really the Frey building was the gem. And it all seemed to be working, there was a family picnicking nearby and a good number of visitors wandering around.

If you had told me this was going to happen years ago I would have struggled to believe you but, boy am I glad to see it happen. This place needed some good news.