From thousands upon thousands of kilometers of empty city roads in the middle of the Mojave desert, to the tallest abandoned building in the entire world, and an eerily empty ghost city filled with hundreds of identical abandoned villas. This is part three of our most useless megaprojects series. Number 3: California City Situated in one of the driest and most unforgiving places in the United States is California’s third-largest city by land area. Spanning as much as 500 square kilometers in the middle of the Mojave Desert, California City is a failed attempt at creating America’s next biggest metropolis that would rival the likes of Los Angeles or New York. The city’s history begins with a man named Nathan K. Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn was a Czech-born sociology professor from Columbia University who studied the structure of towns and villages. After the Second World War, California’s economy boomed. With plenty of military bases and defense infrastructure, the state received regular funding from the federal government. And so hundreds of thousands of people started to flock to California hoping for better opportunities. Mendelsohn wanted to be part of this rapid growth, so in 1958 he purchased 30,000 hectares of land in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
His plan was to transform this barren wasteland into a bustling suburban utopia that would rival neighboring Los Angeles just 150 kilometers to the south. But of all places, why did Mendelsohn want to build his city in the middle of the desert? There were two reasons. First, desert land far away from city centers like San Francisco or Los Angeles was very cheap. Second, Mendelsohn chose this precise plot of land in the Mojave to build his city after learning about the existence of an underground lake. This groundwater would have single-handedly sustained the water needs of the entire city in an area where water was pretty hard to come by. Shortly after the purchase, the California City Development Company (CCDC) was created with Mendelsohn taking on a leading position. The CCDC was tasked with overseeing and managing the development of California City. By 1961, the master plan for the city’s creation was already in full swing. To entice potential buyers to purchase land and property, a central park was built along with an artificial lake that would serve as the centerpiece of the city. Plenty of other amenities were constructed during this time which included two golf courses and a four-story motel just beside the park. On top of all the infrastructure development, all throughout the early 1960s, Mendelsohn heavily advertised California City in the Los Angeles Times. He called it an investment worth buying and described the development as both a “giant venture” and the “largest community in the US”.
Also part of Mendelsohn’s campaign was marketing the city through a “real estate school” that would train and license individuals to sell land. But despite all of Mendelsohn’s efforts in developing and advertising the city to grow to millions and millions of citizens, seven years after its beginning it only had a total of just over 800 residents. Much of the city’s land was left undeveloped as empty plots of land dotted the desert landscape. Despite the cheap price tag, only a few gambled with Mendelsohn’s promise of America’s next biggest city. In 1969, Mendelsohn sold the majority of his shares in the company when sales started to dwindle down. He was starting to realize that his vision of a bustling city in the desert was slowly fading away. During this time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also started investigating allegations of fraud and corruption. By 1972, the FTC issued a cease and desist order for misleading advertising. This was because the real estate school was only designed to sell plots of land in California City and not actually train people to be professional real estate brokers. Additionally, the FTC deemed the property encumbered and most advertised amenities and infrastructure such as roads were not completed. Today, after more than six decades of continuous yet slow growth, California City is home to a population of 15,000 people. A single McDonald’s, a Starbucks, and a couple of strip malls line the city’s main boulevard which sees minimal traffic all throughout the day. A small airport and a regular bus service connects the small city to the rest of California. Meanwhile, a privately-owned prison in the city’s undeveloped east side serves as the city’s main source of employment. Although California City may look like your usual American rural town, when viewed from above, remnants of the city’s ambitious past can still be seen today. Much of the city’s land to the east still remains undeveloped. Dirt roads form a useless expansive grid that would have been the skeleton of Mendelsohn’s envisioned metropolis. The plumbing infrastructure from the 60s also still remains and has become extremely costly for the local government to maintain. Mendelsohn’s vision may have not come to fruition, but a renewed interest in the city’s unique history is putting California City back into the radar.
Online magazines, artists, and photographers have become fascinated with the city’s story and some even believe that “the city is worth reexamining given the current housing crisis in the country”. Only time will tell where this unfinished city is headed towards, and as it stands today, much of California City remains as a useless megaproject in the middle of the desert. Number 2: The Tallest Abandoned Building in the World With a towering height of 600 meters, the Goldin Finance 117 in Tianjin, China holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s tallest unoccupied building. A record that China frankly never wanted to hold in the first place. But before it was eventually abandoned, the tower would have become China’s third and the world’s sixth tallest skyscraper if it were to ever be completed. Plans for the tower’s construction were first drafted back in the early 2000s, a time wherein many Chinese cities were all competing for international fame and recognition through rapid infrastructure development. The man behind the project was billionaire Pat Sutong, chairman of Hong Kong-based investment company Goldin Financial Holdings. Goldin Finance 117 was to be the centerpiece of Goldin Metropolitan—a 1.8 square kilometer luxury residential and business district located just outside of downtown Tianjin. Along with the central skyscraper, multiple residential and commercial buildings were to be constructed in the area. The skyscraper itself would contain 128 floors above ground, with 117 floors being used for a mixed use of housing and commercial space. The other 11 floors are dedicated for mechanical and operational systems. The plan for Goldin Finance 117 also included an iconic diamond-shaped roof which would be three storeys high.
This area would house the world’s highest observation deck, swimming pool, and restaurant at a height of 580 meters above the ground. Construction on the tower began in 2008 with a scheduled completion in 2014. However in early 2010, just following the Global Financial Crisis, construction work on the tower was suspended. With plenty of other assets and investments in the west to take care of, Goldin had to temporarily cut costs elsewhere and so the tower’s construction was paused. Eventually, when the market finally stabilized, construction resumed in 2011 and the skyscraper was now scheduled to open in 2018. In September 2015, the building was finally topped-out marking the completion of the skyscraper’s structure. This would have been an occasion for celebration, but unfortunately for Sutong and the Goldin company, things were just about to blow over. June 2015 saw the Chinese stock market crash and Goldin’s share price plummeted by as much as 67%. Sutong himself, who had a massive stake in the company lost as much as $13 billion USD in the aftermath of this crisis. Just three months after the building was topped-out, Goldin suspended all construction work on the project indefinitely. Although it might look like Goldin Finance 117 failed because of unfortunate market timings and financing issues, that alone is not the complete picture. Ever since the construction began 14 years ago, the skyscraper was already doomed to fail.
Everything about the project from the high-end amenities to the idea of living in one of the tallest buildings in the world painted Goldin Finance 117 as a luxury. Something that was targeted towards the rich elite. Even if the project would have been completed, the target market the skyscraper was aiming for simply didn’t exist in Tianjin. Nobody who lived near the project could actually afford what it was trying to offer. And it is uncertain whether wealthy Chinese would have moved to Tianjin from far away just to live in a super tall skyscraper. As it stands today, the building still remains unfinished. The contractor for the project has completely abandoned the construction site taking all workers and equipment with them. The Goldin Finance 117 now stands tall above Tianjin and remains as a useless hunk of concrete that has never been occupied, and it’s probably going to stay this way for many years to come. Number 1: Burj al Babas Nestled just south of the picturesque city of Mudurnu in northwestern Turkey is a fascinating yet eerie sight. Hundreds upon hundreds of abandoned chateau-style homes dot the mountainous landscape with not a single soul in sight. Burj al Babas was supposed to be a luxury residential development catered towards wealthy oil executives, but it never saw the light of day. Construction on the residential complex began in 2014 and was scheduled to finish four years later. The plan was to create a total of 732 of these identical-looking villas to be rented out or sold to wealthy individuals. Each villa would have three storeys, its own balcony, a spiral staircase leading towards it, traditional Turkish interiors, and homeowners had the option to install an indoor pool in the basement. Additionally, the project also included a central shopping center that would house shops, restaurants, health and beauty centers, a cinema, and a mosque. On top of all that, the site for Burj al Babas’ construction is also located above a geothermal spring. And so a traditional Turkish bath was planned to be constructed above the hot springs as part of the many amenities the project offered its potential buyers.
Each villa was reportedly priced around the neighborhood of $400,000 – $500,000 USD. The idea being that the properties would be of interest to wealthy Gulf investors which is the target market of the project. Initially, the project seemed to be going quite well as nearly half of all the villas were already financed by investors. But by 2018, the entire project suddenly came to a crashing stop with only 587 of the planned 732 villas being erected. When the global oil market tanked in the same year, Burj al Babas’ investors were severely affected by the sudden falling of oil prices. To make matters worse, Turkey’s economy was already going through a rough patch with an inflation rate of as much as 25%—the highest it has ever been in 15 years. Most of Burj al Babas’ buyers were quick to withdraw from the project as Turkey’s construction industry saw a massive downturn following the economic situation of the country. With a project valued at $200 million USD, and little to no sales that actually pushed through, the company behind the Burj al Babas now saw themselves $27 million USD in debt and in serious trouble. Around the same time, Turkish court ordered the company to file for bankruptcy and stop construction on the project given its situation. The developer tried to appeal this ruling and believed that they could overcome the crisis by saying that “We only need to sell 100 villas to pay off our debt. I believe we can get over this crisis in four to five months and partially inaugurate the project in 2019”. This of course never happened and up to this day, Burj al Babas remains as a ghost town amidst the picturesque landscape of northwestern Turkey. The project has been abandoned for three years now and not a single villa has ever been constructed to completion. It has been so long since the project was abandoned to the point wherein some of the many houses are now crumbling and being destroyed by nature over time.
Three years have now passed since construction stopped on Burj al Babas and no other developer has dared to continue the project. The future of this project over the next few years remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure. For now, the site will remain empty with nothing but hundreds of identical-looking villas. What do you think about these megaprojects? Do you think they would ever be completed? Let us know in the comments down below. If you want to learn more about other failed megaprojects, you can check out part one and part two of our useless megaprojects series