The desert east of Los Angeles is speckled with ghost towns, but none likely has a more interesting history than Llano Del Rio, a socialist commune settled by Job Harriman in 1915.
Harriman ran for California governor in 1898 with the Socialist Labor Party. He lost. He was Eugene Debs’ vice-presidential candidate in 1900. They lost. He ran for mayor of Los Angeles in 1911 and topped the primary with 44% of the votes, but his affiliation with the two brothers who’d bombed the Los Angeles Times building sunk him in the general election. He ran for L.A. mayor again in 1913 and lost.
Harriman got together with investors and bought 2,000 acres of land on the southern end of the Mojave Desert. His goal: A socialist community within the larger capitalist society. He was not looking to smash the system and start everything over.
“It became apparent to me that a people would never abandon their means of livelihood, good or bad, capitalistic or otherwise, until other methods were developed which would promise advantages at least as good as those by which they were living,” he later said.
Llano Del Rio soon had a school system and a sustaining economy. At its peak over 900 members (all Caucasian) lived there. The colony fell apart in 1918. Water shortage was a big issue, as were political factions. Harriman eventually made his way back to Los Angeles and died seven years later.
Now all that remains of Llano Del Rio are a few chimneys, walls and foundations. Look north while driving down Highway 138 and you’ll see them.
In Greek the word “utopia” sounds like “good place” but literally means “no place.” Seems like the right word for a socialist ghost town.
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