Hello from the Salton Sea

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April 23, 2011

After my stop at Salvation Mountain, my two travel companions and I headed north on 111 to see the handful of modernist sites on the Salton Sea. The massive saline body of water is the biggest lake in California and occupies a truly barren, strange stretch of the Imperial Valley. Some 35 miles long and 10 miles across, the Salton Sea was something of a pleasure center in the middle of the last century. Speed boats, zippy yacht clubs, Hollywood celebs, and sunseekers of all stripes made the trip out to the lake that touches San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial Counties. Now, the majority of visitors are the untold thousands of birds that stop over on their migration route. We three peregrines were after a design oasis though: an Albert Frey-designed yacht club in the town of North Shore.

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  It was a pretty hazy day on the Salton Sea when we visited. But the immense flatness of the lake and the mountains in the background still made for some pretty epic landscape viewing. I will confess that the place looks better than it smells. The lake has no natural inlet or outlet, and with little rainfall and lots of evaporation, it's can make for a pretty salty soup of dead fish and bacterial blooms.
    It was a pretty hazy day on the Salton Sea when we visited. But the immense flatness of the lake and the mountains in the background still made for some pretty epic landscape viewing. I will confess that the place looks better than it smells. The lake has no natural inlet or outlet, and with little rainfall and lots of evaporation, it's can make for a pretty salty soup of dead fish and bacterial blooms.
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  It wasn't the Albert Frey-designed North Shore Yacht Club, but I did like the Salton Sea Visitor Center. The small, mid-century building feels like a great little example of sun-baked California modernism with it's winged roofline and low, glassy facade. The ranger inside didn't know who the architect was, sadly.
    It wasn't the Albert Frey-designed North Shore Yacht Club, but I did like the Salton Sea Visitor Center. The small, mid-century building feels like a great little example of sun-baked California modernism with it's winged roofline and low, glassy facade. The ranger inside didn't know who the architect was, sadly.
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  A lovely dessert bloom just behind the visitor center. It also shows the startling variety of fast-moving clouds that hover over this part of the sate.
    A lovely dessert bloom just behind the visitor center. It also shows the startling variety of fast-moving clouds that hover over this part of the sate.
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  The shore of the Salton Sea at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area was littered with the dried carcasses of fish. Loads of tilapia live in the Salton Sea, and though there was something fairly disgusting about all their corpses, they are dried out almost like jerky. A few kids nearby got a gas out of throwing the dead fish at their father, which was pretty funny from where I was sitting.
    The shore of the Salton Sea at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area was littered with the dried carcasses of fish. Loads of tilapia live in the Salton Sea, and though there was something fairly disgusting about all their corpses, they are dried out almost like jerky. A few kids nearby got a gas out of throwing the dead fish at their father, which was pretty funny from where I was sitting.
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  Beyond the visitor center, my favorite structure at this particular stretch of beach was this one. It's a replica of the kind of dwelling that the native Cahuilla Indians would have lived in.
    Beyond the visitor center, my favorite structure at this particular stretch of beach was this one. It's a replica of the kind of dwelling that the native Cahuilla Indians would have lived in.
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  Again, those epic mountains. In prehistoric times the Salton Sea would have been part of the Sea of Cortez between Baja California and mainland Mexico.
    Again, those epic mountains. In prehistoric times the Salton Sea would have been part of the Sea of Cortez between Baja California and mainland Mexico.
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  About a mile past the visitor center, we came to the North Shore Yacht Club designed by Albert Frey in 1959. It had fallen derelict for years after its 1960s heyday, but last year Riverside County and architect John Rivera of Holt Architecture undertook a renovation. It's now also home to the Salton Sea Historical Museum.
    About a mile past the visitor center, we came to the North Shore Yacht Club designed by Albert Frey in 1959. It had fallen derelict for years after its 1960s heyday, but last year Riverside County and architect John Rivera of Holt Architecture undertook a renovation. It's now also home to the Salton Sea Historical Museum.
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  This was actually my favorite view from the building. I was up on one of the terraces off the Compass Room (now an office) looking out toward the Salton Sea. Those pilings used to hold a pier. A new one should be going up soon according to Jennie Kelly, director of the museum.
    This was actually my favorite view from the building. I was up on one of the terraces off the Compass Room (now an office) looking out toward the Salton Sea. Those pilings used to hold a pier. A new one should be going up soon according to Jennie Kelly, director of the museum.
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  Here's a view of the facade that faces the water. It's quite spruced up, and made using the same kind of undulating material as the original. The portholes are also looking quite spiffy, and continue to make the building look like a cruise ship, which was Frey's intent.
    Here's a view of the facade that faces the water. It's quite spruced up, and made using the same kind of undulating material as the original. The portholes are also looking quite spiffy, and continue to make the building look like a cruise ship, which was Frey's intent.
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  Sadly the cocktail lounge that used to be in place is no longer there. For a good look at what the building looked like when it was first designed, have a look at this promtional video from the era.
    Sadly the cocktail lounge that used to be in place is no longer there. For a good look at what the building looked like when it was first designed, have a look at this promtional video from the era.
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  This is a building just to the south of the Yacht Club that shows you just what kind of repair the place was in before the renovation. More upgrades are in the works and I'll be anxious to come back in a year or so to see how it all fixes up.
    This is a building just to the south of the Yacht Club that shows you just what kind of repair the place was in before the renovation. More upgrades are in the works and I'll be anxious to come back in a year or so to see how it all fixes up.
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  Finally, here's a glimpse of the wonderful modernist staircase you see when you come in the front door. It's certainly the boldest architectural move on the interior, and when paired with the cinder block walls, it immediately evokes its era. Kelly told me that a downside of the staircase is that there is no handicap access to the second floor. As a county-owned building it's not presently in compliance with access code, and so there is talk of putting an elevator on the exterior of the building. Here's hoping they won't alter the facade too greatly.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!
    Finally, here's a glimpse of the wonderful modernist staircase you see when you come in the front door. It's certainly the boldest architectural move on the interior, and when paired with the cinder block walls, it immediately evokes its era. Kelly told me that a downside of the staircase is that there is no handicap access to the second floor. As a county-owned building it's not presently in compliance with access code, and so there is talk of putting an elevator on the exterior of the building. Here's hoping they won't alter the facade too greatly.

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