The Salton Sea’s Sunken City

It all began in 1926 as the dream of one man to build a resort on the north shore of the Salton Sea.  Gus Eilers and a financial backer set out to build an ambitious resort named Date Palm Beach.  They got land for the project from the Southern Pacific Railroad, but the stock market crash of 1929 took the financial backer out of the picture.  Gus Eilers had to go it alone.

Remnants of the Sunken City of Salton Sea near North Shore

Gus worked his dream with only a Model T Ford for transportation and a Pelican named Pete for company.  He lived in a tent while his family stayed in Los Angeles until his daughters graduated from High school.  He cleared the land by hand finally able to start construction in 1930 with a modest building and a pier.  In 1932 he bought two cottages from the Olympic Village in Los Angeles to serve as the first guest rooms.  He extended the pier to 200 feet to accommodate the boats he knew would come.

Mr. Eiler was the originator of boat racing on the Salton Sea.  The Salton Sea came to be known as the “faster water in the west” because the engines of the time performed better at lower altitudes and the Salton Sea was 240’ below sea level.  Eilers’ resort hosted many boat races, and the Salton Sea quickly became a Mecca for boat racing.  Mr. Eiler pioneered the use of electric timers for boat racing, advancing the sport considerably.   Other boaters discovered the Salton Sea.  Soon boats ranging from kayaks to sailboats could be seen at Eilers’.  

Salton Sea’s Sunken City is now beginning to surface as the water level recedes as seen in this 2016 photo

World War II put an end to boat racing.  The Navy started using the Salton Sea as a Seaplane Operational Area where seaplane pilots and crews from San Diego trained.  It was also used as an emergency landing area for seaplanes that couldn’t land in San Diego Bay due to weather.  Mr. Eiler had an arrangement with the Navy to provide food and lodging for crews that had to remain overnight.  Mrs. Eilers was locally famous as a cook.  She was said to have put on a pot of coffee and pop one of her “magical” coffeecakes into the oven whenever she heard an inbound seaplane.  The Navy men surely must have enjoyed their stay at Date Palm Beach.

The Navy was not the only service to enjoy Date Palm Beach.  G.I.s from General Patton’s Desert Training Center, as many as 500 a day, would take Mr. Eilers up on his offer of “free swims.” Of course, they bought a few Cokes and beers.   General Patton himself was said to have visited the resort on several occasions.  Mr. Eilers got a son-in-law out of the deal as one of his daughters married a Sargent from the training center.

Mr. Eilers sold Date Palm Beach to Mr. C. Roy Hunter and associates in 1946.  The new owners changed the name to Desert Beach.  They expanded the resort significantly adding a first-class clubhouse and other amenities.  Mr. Hunter served in the navy and was aboard the battleship U.S.S. Nebraska when it went around the world as part of Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet.  By chance, he stumbled upon the ship’s wheel from the Nebraska in San Francisco.  He bought it and put it in a place of prominence in the clubhouse which he promptly named the Wheelhouse.  Mr. Hunter continued to cater to the boating crowd, and soon Date Palm Beach and the Wheel House became a destination for boaters from all over.  

The green-tile walls are still in good condition even after being underwater for decades

Mr. Hunter’s greatest fear was that the Salton Sea would recede, so he built as close to the water as possible.  Unfortunately, the Salton Sea did just the opposite.  By 1953, the resort was well on its way to being underwater.  By 1955 it was underwater.  Mr. Hunter’s purchase of the resort came with a guarantee from the Imperial Irrigation District that the Salton Sea would not do what it did.  Hunter sued and won, but passed away before the judgment was reached. 

Desert Beach has been completely submerged up until the last few years.  As the water level drops, the ruins of the resort becomes more visible.  The locals began calling it the Sunken City.  Someday the remains of the resort will be on dry land again, but few will know its rich history.  The Sunken City is also the Forgotten City.

5 Comments:

  1. Very interesting story! I had no idea all this had carried on.

  2. Very informative & interesting. My husband & I use to live in Imperial Valley and always pass by Salton Sea. I still remember the stinky smell every time we drove by.

  3. Exact location please. I’ll love to go see.

    • The Sunken City is located about 1 mile south of the North Shore Beach Yacht Club or 1 mile north of the Salton Sea State Beach Rec. Area (between the two)..

  4. Take a kayak!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.