Slab City, California
Slab City, also called The Slabs, is largely a snowbird community in the Sonoran Desert located in Imperial County, California, 156 miles (251 km) northeast of San Diego and 169 miles (272 km) southeast of Los Angeles within the California Badlands, and used by recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across North America. It took its name from concrete slabs that remained from the abandoned World War II Marine Corps barracks of Camp Dunlap. Several thousand campers, many of them retired, use the site during the winter months. The "snowbirds" stay only for the winter before migrating north in spring to cooler climates. The temperatures during summer are as high as 120 °F (48 °C); nonetheless, there is a group of around 150 permanent residents who live in "The Slabs" year round. Some of these "Slabbers" derive their living from government programs and have been driven to "The Slabs" by poverty. Others have moved to "The Slabs" to learn how to live off the grid and be left alone. Still others have moved there to stretch their retirement income.
The site is both decommissioned and uncontrolled, and there is no charge for parking. The site has no official electricity, running water, sewers, toilets or trash pickup service. Many residents use generators or solar panels to generate electricity. The closest body of civilization with proper law enforcement is approximately four miles southwest of Slab City in Niland where the residents often go to do basic shopping. As a result, the site is described by its inhabitants and news outlets like Vice News as a miniature de facto enclave of anarchy.
There was need for a new training facility for field and anti-aircraft artillery units. To create the training base, 631.345 acres were obtained. The government announced that the base was to be named after Brig. Gen Robert Henry Dunlap, U.S.M.C. After construction of Camp Dunlap was completed, it was commissioned on October 15, of 1942. The camp had fully functioning buildings, water, roads, and sewage collections. The base was used for three years during the war. By 1949, military operations at Camp Dunlap had been greatly reduced, but a skeleton crew continued on until the base was dismantled. By 1956, all buildings had been dismantled, but the slabs remained.
As of October 6, 1961, a quitclaim deed conveying the land to the State of California was issued by the Department of Defense as it was determined the land was no longer required. The deed did not contain any restrictions, recapture clauses or restoration provisions. All of the former Camp Dunlap buildings had been removed. The remaining slabs were not proposed for removal. Later, legislation required that revenue generated from this property go to the California State Teachers Retirement System.
Located just east of California State Route 111, the entrance to Slab City is easily recognized by the colorful Salvation Mountain, which is a small hill approximately three stories and entirely covered in latex paint, concrete and adobe, and festooned with Bible verses. It was a project over two decades by Leonard Knight.
East Jesus is an experimental, sustainable and habitable art installation located in the Slab City area. There is no religious connotation in the name East Jesus – it is a colloquialism for a place in the middle of nowhere beyond the edge of service availability; the off-grid facility operates with no municipal utilities. In early 2007, Charlie Russell left his job in the technology industry, packed all his belongings into a shipping container and sent it to a trash-strewn field where he began to surround his two art cars with sculptures that would become the foundation works of East Jesus. The Chasterus Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit formed after his death in 2011, has since guided the curation and expansion of East Jesus.
Made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled or repurposed, East Jesus encourages visitors to imagine a world without waste, in which every action is opportunity for self-expression. Assemblage and mixed-media art cover nearly every inch of it, interior and exterior. Sculptures and installations are constantly in development throughout campus, and the musical performance space holds a public address system, a stage lighting system, and a studio grand piano. There are also a solar power system with a battery bank made up of expired batteries disposed by telecom companies.Photography, multimedia art, performance art, writing and music are integral parts of a larger fabric, which their artists collectively are continually weaving. East Jesus artwork is living, growing and ever-changing, and embraces the thousands of varied voices from contributing artists who have added to the installation. Each day, residential staff gives dozens of free tours, and hosts visiting artists and overnight guests.
The Range is an open-air nightclub complete with stage, lights, amplifiers, and speakers, with tattered couches and old chairs for seating. Every Saturday night at around dusk, locals and visitors meet for a talent show that features permanent resident musicians and anyone else who wants to get up on stage and perform. The venue is run by old-time resident William Ammon, known as Builder Bill. Ammon's wife, Robin Ammon, collected old prom dresses for people to wear. These prom dresses are used when they put on a prom because many people who live there have not been able to actually go to a prom.
The land is owned by the State of California. Speculations are that the state has been wanting to sell or lease the land. Energy companies would be the most likely buyers or lessees.
If the land were sold without provisions for the survival of the East Jesus community, the community and art installations may be bulldozed. The hope of many East Jesus supporters is that California will let a East Jesus-supporting organization buy it, ideally for a dollar per acre.
William "Builder Bill" Ammon is heading off and helping organize this effort. California has not yet decided if they are going to be selling the land, but the Lands Commission is thinking about starting the process of getting the land appraised, and, if needed, allow for cleanup due to military waste from when it was previously a base for the U.S.M.C.