Vanity Fair profiles The eXile: "Gutsy...visceral...serious journalism...abusive, defamatory...poignant...paranoid...and right!"
MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
Dispatch / April 30, 2009
By Yasha Levine

Notice the word “prospecting.” It seems that even back then people were being sold on the idea that a house was not just a house, but an investment that would keep growing, no matter what. And why shouldn’t it? At that point, America had been in an economic boom for more than a decade, sort of like the one we just lived through.

Dry & Healthy Desert Livin' in Victorville

And just like in recent times, the press shamelessly hurrayed the real estate expansion. I found a few clips from a  1955 three-part series from The AP spotlighting the Mojave Desert’s “remarkable transformation” and promoting the people behind it. These were the good ‘ol days of real estate. Baby boomers were popping out of wombs, prosperity was in the air, modern marvels could be purchased by the middle-class. Land developers and bankers were in wealth-creation heaven. And even from the handful of clips I found, you could see the how much money was dished out on advertising.

“Oil millionaire Newt Bass came to the Mojave Desert nine years ago to build himself a ranch for weekending. He stayed to launch a 12 million dollar land development that touched off the sagebrush country’s biggest real estate boom.

Bass was the man behind the creation of Apple Valley, a spacious suburb located across the I-15 from Victorville that has a retirement community feel to it these days. While tiny little towns like Palmdale or Barstow barely kept up populations of 10,000 people with a little local industry and nearby military bases, Bass was intent on building the city on promotion alone. “I fell in love with the place and figured that if others could only see it they would do likewise,” he told the AP reporter.

And love for the desert don’t come cheap. The financial records of a like-minded land developer busy laying down the foundation of Hesperia, a sprawling suburb just south of Victorville, showed that it costs more money to sell a harsh desert as a suburban paradise on earth than it does to build it. Marion Penn Philips, who coincidentally served as the vice president of the Los Angeles Federal Savings & Loan Association, told Time magazine in 1959 that he spent $1.33 on marketing Hesperia for every $1.00 spent on land and development.

But it paid off big time. In Hesperia, the population grew form 700 in 1954 to more than 4,000 in 1959, while the price of a one-acre lot jumped from $795 to $6,000. In Victorville, land value shot up from $40 to $2,000 in the same time frame.

“The nastiest thing my mother ever said about anybody was, ‘They’re just renters,’” Philips told Time magazine. See, the thing about renters is that if you’re gonna defraud them of money, you have to do it slow and steady like. And while being an apartment slumlord may have its perks, greed trumps sadism.


LATE UPDATE: On Thursday, April 30, news reports came out with a shocking statistic. Despite the fact that banks left holding unwanted homes here have started calling in wrecking ball crews to demolish some of the newest developments (to avoid paying fines to the city), Victorville has been posting record-setting growth. While California grew only by 1% from January 2008 to January 2009 (which is in line with America’s natural growth rate), Victorville added stunning 2.5 percent to its miserable population, surpassing all other cities in the county.

Watch this video sent over by one of our readers:

Tear ’em down, then build new ones. Say what you will, but Victorville’s speculative future looks as bright as ever.


Yasha Levine is currently stationed in Victorville, California. He’ll be here for a while, so look out for weekly updates from the trenches of the American Dream. Read his previous dispatch: Dispatch from Victorville: Levine Starts His Journey Into the Heart of America’s Foreclosure Nightmare

You can contact him at


Add your own

  • 1. Charles Freedom  |  April 30th, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Good article, but the last paragraph is kinda out of left field. Either that, or I’m just too simpleminded to understand what you mean. Now that I think about it, yes, it’s probably just that.

  • 2. Chris Connolly  |  April 30th, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    This is all you have to show for your week of slumming it?

  • 3. bob breen  |  April 30th, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    is victorville a scene coming to a town near you? the housing bust seems to be spreading. i was in florida about 6 weeks ago and its being held together with string and duct tape. in st petes there are whole streets for sale. its even worse in the fort myers area. there are armies of homeless and the state can’t keep up with the food stamp applications. fixed income has turned into a curse for many who moved to the sunshine state to enjoy their final years away from the cold northern states.seems to be a lot of pain and misery being overlooked by the media. or whats left of the media.

  • 4. LottoZheroGravity  |  April 30th, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Interesting, thanks for the post.

  • 5. Ben  |  April 30th, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    “greed trumps sadism.”

    The most openly sadistic members of Congress are the ones who aren’t in it for the money. They take the rationalizations of their corrupt colleagues at face value, and continue the class war with an enhanced sense of self-righteousness.

  • 6. Anonymous  |  April 30th, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    The history lesson is dry so far, although I’m optimistic that you’re building to some good punch line with these articles, whether or not you know yet what that punch line is. Everything from “There’s also quiet a bit” [sic] through “just goes on and on” should probably be moved to the end of the article, so the commenters have a little more respect and gee-whiz awe at your journalistic abilities.

    Any good Erin Brockovich style industrial waste scandals in Victorville’s past? Are you drinking the tap water? Does the library have archives of federally mandated city water quality reports going back a few years? I’d go live in a desert wasteland myself, if I had a magic faucet that pumped endless clean water, but reality out there is usually a bit worse.

  • 7. Snarky  |  April 30th, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Met a Mexican lady today. She was crying. Her boyfriend left her, she wanted diapers for her baby and was asking for money near a bank. Everyone was telling her to fuck off. I was curious, whether she really wanted diapers, or not. It could have just been money. So I went to a local store, and bough diapers and handed them to her, as she was being led away with her kid in a stroller by bank security guards. I got annoyed, and informed the idiots that mishandlign a lady with a baby is a crime in the Liberal state of California. The guards then politely asked her to vacate the area.

    So I was now in trouble, she was hanging on my neck, crying, and I really didn’t want my shirt wet, plus what was I supposed to do with her? I only bought the diapers cause I was interested in the reaction (and $6 isn’t my hourly wage) and I yelled at the guards cause I was pissed. I didn’t do it out of compassion, but out of mere curiosity. And then it hit. No one really gives a shit about each other anymore.

    It’s just about money. It’s all about money. You have money you’re respected, whether you earned it or not, you’re broke and on the street and you’re hated. When did we become fucking robots? When did money started trumping compassion? Love? Are we that racist against Mexicans? Yeah there are too many, but taking it out on a woman with a kid isn’t exactly getting your point across.

    And don’t think the rich aren’t enslaved by money either. They are! Re-read Andrew Lahde’s letter, where he states that the rich give up families, leisure time, everything, they even marry for money, just to get nine figure wealth. When did this happen? When did humans enslave themselves to money? And what was the point of fighting the Civil War?

  • 8. aleke  |  May 1st, 2009 at 1:56 am

    Hahah Marx was right.

  • 9. Anon  |  May 1st, 2009 at 5:42 am


    Those poor rich people, why do we always forget their pain?

  • 10. ben housouer  |  May 1st, 2009 at 6:07 am

    dear yasha….i’m enjoying these pieces immensely…i live on the other side of the pass but often work in the high desert…the whole place is interconnected…to get a feel i suggest you take the road to phelan and have a drink at the thunderbird and then drink your way to wrightwood, or as the locals call it whitewood….i recommend the raccoon saloon but on weekends the yodler is good to sit outside and people watch…this is where all the burned out hippie losers go to die as opposed to the actively using meth-heads in victorville…i suggest a sat. afternoon as, believe it or not, tourists come to gawk at the bikers who always show up…try it out and if you like it i can steer you to other places where you can interview the locals

  • 11. lizzardking  |  May 1st, 2009 at 7:10 am

    This was very funny reading, you are a good writer I am looking forward to your future installments.

  • 12. The Dark Avenger  |  May 1st, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Tearing down Victorville

  • 13. Jasen Comstock  |  May 1st, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Two other weird spots that i would recommend (though not sure if they still exist) would be a tourist trap “ghost town” called Calico, near Barstow. Where modern serfs can go see what old timey serfs did in the California desert 150 years ago.

    Another would be the deep creek hot springs somewhere between Hesperia and Apple Valley. It used to just be a spot out in the desert where high school kids used to go fuck and do drugs in pleasantly hot water, but the land’s owner turned it into some kind of nudist resort.

  • 14. napoleonkaramazov  |  May 1st, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Reminds me of the grapes of wrath by Steinbeck. If one book was ever an argument for socialism in America, then that would be it.

  • 15. Don  |  May 1st, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    “There are a lot of fat people; many of them 18-year-old girls with kids.”

    They say it’s better to have had (forget loved) and lost than to never have had at all.

    When I lived in the US I would see a girl or two a week I might want to fuck and only one or two a year that I actually needed to fuck.

    Now, while I walk through my SPB neighborhood in Ozerki I see a girl ever couple of minutes I want to fuck and at least 2-3 per day I need to fuck. When downtown on Nevski Prospect the numbers increase exponentially.

    Knowing you once lived here yourself I’d empathize with you if I had the capacity. Having had and lost it is I think much more painful than never having had it at all like the average citizens of Victorville.

    I don’t know how you do it.

  • 16. ben housouer  |  May 1st, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    dear yasha…having reviewed your story, which is facinating, i’m afraid you may be missing the point.while it is true that real estate hucksters have been working the high desert for years they really didn’t lure any suckers up there. that may be true of riverside, moreno valley, and the 10 freeway all the way to palm springs but not victorville. it is a state of mind just like all the high desert. in other words the suckers were already there, they just moved into bigger houses for a few years at someone elses expense. when it came time to go they just went. ordinarily they just switch mobile homes but if the banks are willing to upgrade the game to single family homes thats ok with the losers since they never pay the rent anyway.this game has been going on since charles manson hung out there.
    so no, this is not the street of broken dreams where people were lured up there and screwed by the banks, this is the high desert rats fucking the banks for a few years free rent.
    the high desert has always been and will always be the absolute fringe of american society. the people there actually don’t care if they are homeless…thats why they’re there…they are more or less left alone by the cops to cook meth or cut peoples heads off or whatever…sort of like american taliban in an american warizistan….this is not class warfare, it is civilized society vs barbarism…i love it

  • 17. Anonymous  |  May 2nd, 2009 at 4:03 am

    #7 Snarky, there is at least some compassion everywhere, although some places seem to have markedly more compassion and charity and tolerance (NYC, SF, Seattle, Canada, Costa Rica), and others markedly more fear and greed and bullying (LA, Vegas, Atlanta, Mexico, Russia).

    Remember how a lot of Americans were terrified that Communism after the Stalinist purges was a system where everyone, even the assassination-fearing dictator, was more miserable than they would be in a democracy and knew it, but each of them at each moment in time was better off trying to extend Communism and enslave more people than fight against it, so it sort of wound up growing like a tumor even though everyone knew how awful it was? Of course, arguably that’s a little truth and a lot of American paranoia, but it’s still a striking and scary concept that’s probably true in a lot of small groups at a lot of brief times, even if it wasn’t true for decades throughout all of global Communism.

    A social system of heartless greed can be similarly corrosive and grow in the same way, even though again, most everyone knows they would be better off in a more charitable system. Like the (admittedly CIA assisted) Solidarity movement in Poland, or the 1890s Populists who started projects like Hull House or the Wobblies, you really have to work hard to effect any change on these large systems.

  • 18. Lord of War  |  May 3rd, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Nice post, Yasha.

  • 19. rick  |  May 3rd, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    @ don & Yasha

    Might be interesting (if painful and detrimental for your career) to include ahem certain observations and id-outbursts a certain Mr. A. has been on the DL about recently, but would certainly entertain certain readers.

    In all seriousness, you wouldn’t have to get too “offensive.” There’s a valid anthropological element there. After I moved back to Chicago from NY I literally couldn’t leave my house, I was so unmotivated, the lack of beautiful women destroyed my ability to navigate the world. It destroys the ability of friend groups to intermingle and have fun. Beautiful women give life to the social world, they solidify broad social networks and even prowling packs of males. One of the most disgusting elements of hanging with hippie guys was the sheer inability to admit “WE ARE OUT LOOKING FOR PUSSY.” A community of ugly women is a community of broken social bonds.

  • 20. Matt  |  May 5th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Wait until the next wave of foreclosures hits in the next 18 months and then we will be likely seeing torched vacant homes.

  • 21. Bob  |  May 5th, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Was in Victorville this weekend by coincidence. Essentially a cluster of houses and strip malls beside I-15. At least it was better than Barstow, but not by much.

  • 22. RT Carpenter  |  May 5th, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    The loss of the Roy Rogers museum was the beginning of the end for Victorville. Your fossil from 1961 reminded me of a book I bought around that time. It had all the selling points for the unlimited future of Palmdale, California. I wished then I could invest in Palmdale. Of course, I had no money then.

  • 23. john  |  May 7th, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    As a young Navy fighter pilot stationed at NAS Miramar in San Diego in the early 1970s, I witnessed – and almost became a victim – of an Apple Valley land scam.

    A local San Diego company recruited junior naval officers, active or recently separated, to sell real estate in Apple Valley to their colleagues.

    Any prospect who showed an iota of interest was hauled up with other prospective dupes to view the area, and select a prospective desert “lot”. Of course then the real HARD SELL began. And if you didn’t buy that day, the sales people hounded you for weeks.

    Although the land was nearly worthless, the salesmen made a large commission on each sale. Moreover, a buyer who bought a lot often could sell it six months later to another, greater fool at a nice profit. The land appreciation was so great and so frequent that even the salesmen starting buying lots to flip, in addition receiving their large commissions.

    It became so rampant that the Navy put out a decree that prohibited and Apple Valley land solicitation on their naval bases. But young naval officers with tales of large and nearly immediate returns on flipped land to their friends fueled a speculative fever like wildfire.

    Naturally, it eventually all came crashing down. The principals skipped out to Mexico, wealthy. Most others ended up owning worthless land with a high mortgage. And these were highly educated, talented, and professional men. Although one of my squadron mates and roommate off base was one of the salesmen, along with two other close friends selling, I thankfully never bought – even after a rough and tumble hard sell (it almost came to blows) with two of the principles late one night.

    It all was a valuable lesson than has saved me from stupid investments for the subsequent 40 years.

  • 24. Jon  |  July 30th, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    As a writer, it must be fun to be so negative and boring… Stay in Moscow. We are all better off.

  • 25. victorville  |  July 11th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    i actually live in victorville. i found your post insulting. and you forgot to say that victorville is a mexican attraction, i see at least 3 fruit stands a day. im so sick of all these fucking people. a few choice people need to go buy some guns. 🙂 lol

Leave a Comment

(Open to all. Comments can and will be censored at whim and without warning.)


Required, hidden

Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed