Archives » February 10th, 2005

February 10, 2005

The Ghost Town of Little Lake

Since we’re driving down to LA from Carson City next week, I was poking around a little on the web about the road we’re taking, US Hwy 395. I got a chuckle to see that the road has its own website, 395.com. The site gets off on the wrong foot by filling up your screen with a ton of “headlines”, mostly blog posts having nothing to do with the area (and half in German!). But if you get past that and scroll down, or look at the sidebar, you’ll find info about the road and all the stops and towns along the way.

I also came across a few sites with the history of the town of Little Lake. Little Lake is located right at the southern tip of the Owens Valley, where 395 passes through a gap in the mountains. Sure enough there’s a little lake by the side of the road, that may or may not be part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, depending on which source you believe. And on the other side of the road is a freeway exit leading to the town of Little Lake. Of course, it’s not much of a town. It mostly consisted of a two-story hotel and a couple of outbuildings. In all our trips from Nevada to LA, we never stopped there to explore it, we just passed it by. In the late 80s the hotel burned and was never rebuilt, and years later you could still see the scorch marks coming out of the upper floor windows. A friend and I did venture through town once in the mid 90s, but by then it was a scary place. Squatters were living in the burned-out shell of the old hotel, with cars up on blocks, wide doorways being used as garages, and a couple of Confederate flags hung proudly from the top floor. Needless to say, we didn’t stop and get out.

The last time we made the drive we noticed that the hotel was gone, finally demolished. We didn’t think anything of it.

But this week, while doing my research, I found the real story of Little Lake. In its day it was one of the premier stops for travellers between LA and points north. Back then, in the 40s and 50s, Highway 395 ran right through the middle of town. The hotel, which was built in 1923, was always busy, and there was a 24-hour cafe and gas station for drivers who needed a break. There was even a railroad line that ran through town. But when the highway was widened in the 60s, it was moved to the edge of town, and a visit to Little Lake meant deliberately getting off the freeway and going out of your way. That, added with faster and more reliable cars that didn’t need as many stops, spelled the death of Little Lake. After the fire it became a ghost town, except for the squatters, and now that the hotel is demolished there’s nothing left.

I’ll see if I can convince my wife to go five minutes out of our way and stop at Little Lake to look around during our trip next week. Now that I know the history, and that it’s one of California’s most recent ghost towns, I’m suddenly more interested in it.