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[00:00:05]

Previously on California City. That's actually my five year savings. I work five years just to save that third. I was five years.

[00:00:14]

Yeah. Things. How they got our name probably from that Filipino grocery store. I don't know, maybe I have charisma. So when you first saw the Yelp reviews, like, how did you feel? I said, oh, my God, this is a scam.

[00:00:37]

Told Ben Perez I would try to figure out what happened to him. We spent so much of his money on a slice of empty desert land that he somehow believed would make him rich one day. In order to do that, I had to understand where this belief came from, who started it and what was this town. Anyway. The man who started California City was named Nat Mendelson, Nat Mendelson was a real estate developer who 60 years ago decided to build a city from scratch in the Mojave Desert.

[00:01:10]

But what were his intentions? Was he really trying to build a city or was he just trying to make as much money as possible?

[00:01:19]

Intention mattered. Tension, this professional poker player once told me, is really the only difference between a dreamer and a con artist. And when someone is dead like that, Mendelssohn is it can be really hard to figure out what his intention really was. I realized I had to talk to the people who knew him well, but that made things even more complicated because talking to them made me realize that there are so many versions of Nat Mendelson. By all accounts, Nat was whatever you needed him to be.

[00:01:51]

There was Nat, the prophet Nat believed with all his heart that God gave him the vision for the city.

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There was Nat, the dad. I remember calling him up and asking him if I should call him daddy. There was Nat, the founding father.

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He was a dreamer, but he made dreamers of us all in the beginning. He lit our torch and there was Nat, the scoundrel. If you profit at the expense of people who are being duped, then you're evil. Literally, there is an evilness to that.

[00:02:30]

Who was this guy really, and did his vision for California City begin as a dream, or was it always a deception? I'm Emily Guerin. And welcome to California City Episode two. A global pandemic. Protests across the country. A nationwide recession. So far, 20 20 has felt like 10 or 15 years. Wrapped up in one. And I think we should talk it all out. I'm Sam Sanders. I host an NPR podcast called It's Been a Minute.

[00:03:06]

Each week on my show, I have conversations with all kinds of people to make sense of the news and the culture without making you feel overwhelmed. Join us every Tuesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe now. It's been a minute. From NPR. Let's start with the weirdest version of Nat Nat the Prophet. OK. Are we recording? Yes. No, no. Yeah, we are. Yeah, we were. Yeah, we're OK. The woman who told me not Mendelsohn got his vision from God is named Catherine Effort.

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She was one of his earliest disciples. In June 2018, I went out to California, city to meter with producers James Kim and David Rodriguez. We met her at her real estate office on California City Boulevard is a small house that's painted the color of grass and it's totally surrounded by dirt in the driveway. Kathryn Silver minivan was parked in the shade of a spindly tree.

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It had a bumper sticker that read Trump 2016 Low Catherine.

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Her office was covered with books and there were children's games everywhere. And in the middle, there was a big table with a map sprawled out on it.

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That happens to be a map of California city. Back in 1980. OK. She is now little over two hundred thousand square miles. Two hundred. Yeah. Two hundred thousand acres. She you call her. Just sit. Well, all cities are female.

[00:04:43]

Come on. All countries usually male. But you know cities. Asia. Female.

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Catherine was seventy nine when I first met her and she was regal, sitting in her high backed office chair like it was a throne. She said so straight. It made me conscious of my slouch and I don't even have a slouch. Her pink shirt matched her pink toenails, and her white capris seemed untouched by Mojave Desert Dust. She had this black Chihuahua named Minnie that slept on her lap and it did not get up once.

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It's an actual service dog. She is adorable. Her eyeballs are the biggest part of her, I swear.

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The whole scene reminded me of oil paintings of 18th century French queens and their Papuans. Just a backup for a second.

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So you knew not Mendleson. Yes, very well. How did you meet him?

[00:05:41]

The first time I met him was 1958. We had a mutual friend and I guess said I thought the guy was crazy. You thought that was good? Yeah. When he said, you know, someday we're gonna have a city here. This is 1958. No. Four lane highway noisy. And I said, why here? The way Catherine tells it, in 1958, she was pregnant with her second daughter and she was married to her first of five husbands.

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She was taking classes at Northwestern University.

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And I had a friend who was an investors stock guy type person. He called me up one day and said, how would you like to go to California for a day or two? I said, that day or to California? I said, Yeah, why not? Catherine told me her friend's name was Al and that Al had been approached by this real estate developer named Nat Mendelson and that Nat was looking for people to help him build California City.

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We came out here. We flew on on the early, early flight. He was telling me about this development and this man who had this vision of building a city and why. So Catherine and Al drove out to California City. Same way I drove in some way Ben Perez did. But back in 1958, I don't know. It was different. The Mojave Desert felt even more remote and desolate than it does today. The Marines had just quit using the area as a bombing range.

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But the Rocky Butte's they'd been using as targets were still pockmarked and shattered. Otherwise, there wasn't much there. Just cotton and alfalfa farms, no trees, except these wispy salt cedars. The farmers had planted his windbreaks. There were many people either except the Basque shepherds who herded their sheep to and from the high country in the Sierra Nevada. Nights were cold, days were hot, and the wind blew nearly all the time. Catherine and Al stopped at an intersection and they turned right on a road that net Mendelsohn would later call California City Boulevard.

[00:07:42]

When they saw that, they got out of the car. I'll tell you who it sounded like was Donald Trump. New York, the New York accent. Kind of a deep voice, not high, not high shrilled.

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Does he remind you of the president in any way? Yes. Reline reminded me of Nat'l the first time I saw Donald Trump. Really? Yeah. What about him? Well, first of all, the way he carries himself, there's no heads down with him. You're not looking at a floor anytime, anywhere. Very much aware of people around him. And their plight never cheated anybody out of a dollar that I am aware of.

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And I got to tell you, I saw a lot of money. Sorry.

[00:08:26]

By the time Catherine met Ned, he'd formed the California City Development Company and he started quietly buying up a ton of land up here. There was no city, no town to speak of, not knew it was desolate, but so was Las Vegas before it boomed. It was the location that Matt. But, Catherine, you realize with your education, location, location, location, I said right. He said California city is perfectly located city to build a new city in zone it and design it to be less congested, more available and more welcoming to the population as a whole.

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But when you when was there anything there?

[00:09:12]

The Dow was just dirt but not didn't see it that way. Not so the city he would build, he saw a huge new meticulously planned city, California city would be 200 square miles bigger than Vegas, bigger than Denver, more than twice the size of Baltimore. In that city, Katherine's children could walk to school safely because he designed the roads to slow down traffic. She could push them in a stroller down the winding greenbelt that Nat would build. Her husband could play golf on the 18 hole golf course or take a class at the University of California campus.

[00:09:58]

Nat claimed was coming. She could shop at the Aspen Mall or picnic by the manmade waterfall in a park that would rival Central Park. That was a masterful salesman. I'm pretty sure he could sell shit to a diaper. And at that point, when you talk about indoctrinating somebody that had the talent for doing that. Like nobody else I've ever known in my life indoctrinating.

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That word jumped out at me as soon as Catherine said it, because typically real estate developers sell. They don't indoctrinate. But Catherine talks about Nat like he was a prophet.

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I always believed that God gave Nat the vision that he gave her, because not only did he given the vision, but he gave them the investors and the reality of life to invest the money to make it happen.

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So God, given that the vision and the research and the research executed. Absolutely. And I picked that off in 1958. You felt like. Oh, yeah.

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And you could tell. God. Oh, yeah. At the vision. Oh yeah.

[00:11:09]

Absolutely. It came from God. And I still believe there.

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So the people who did who didn't believe that or thought he was running a scam. I mean, they're disagreeing with a man who has God's vision. That's right. That's right.

[00:11:28]

On the edge of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah.

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There's this state park called This is the Place. And it's where in 1847, the Mormon leader, Brigham Young, first saw the empty desert basin that would become Salt Lake City.

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This is the right place.

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He proclaimed from the back of his wagon. It was where the Mormons would finally settle, where they would finally be free of persecution. It was where they would make the desert bloom like a rose.

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When I think about Katherine and Nat standing there on the side of that empty road in the Mojave Desert more than a century later, I see Nat make a similar proclamation. I see him take off his homburg hat and mop the sweat from his four head with a pocket square.

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I see him sweep his arm across the landscape and say, this is the place. And I see Katherine with her red hair tied up in a bun, wearing a long jacket to hide her baby bump. I see her looking up at Nat'l in awe of this man with a dream.

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Why did you believe it? There's some real simple truths.

[00:12:38]

One, God keeps making babies and doesn't make any more land. That's it. As crowded as Los Angeles is, we still have people coming in by the millions. Where are those people going to go? They were going to go to California City because when Katherine was growing up after World War Two, cities were done. Urban planners were turning their backs on Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. They were polluted. They were crime ridden, overcrowded. And they could be nuked by our enemies any day.

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But in the deserts of the West, there was still tons of open land. Why not just buy it up cheap and start over? Sometimes I think the reason Catherine fell so hard for Nat and his pitch was timing. She was just old enough not to be timid, but too young to know any better. Did he know you were 17?

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No. Oh, heavens, no. My driver's license, first of all, said I was 20 something.

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Catherine had been lying about her age for years. Her mother drank too much. Her father worked all the time. And she was already starting to feel distant from her husband.

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In retrospect, all this instability kind of makes me think Katherine was the perfect mark for a con. So when I was her age, I was also enchanted by a man who I thought was a prophet. There were two men, actually two beautiful brothers who I met in a foggy trailer park in New Zealand where I was travelling alone. So you have to know I was a prep school kid. I was logical. I was rational. I did not just believe things I didn't have blind faith, but over firelight.

[00:14:24]

They told me about their past lives. They told me about the Mayan calendar. They told me they believed the world was ending in 2012. And they wanted me to believe those things, too. So I was naturally skeptical. But they had answers to all of my questions. They gave me a timeline of when I would fall in love and how deeply they knew a ton about me, even though we'd just met. And I was totally captivated by their confidence.

[00:14:52]

I had never met anyone like them. And so for a few weeks, I just hung around and I lapped up there every word. I think Catherine must have felt the same way towards that. But unlike Catherine, I got a bad feeling from them eventually. They were trying to get me to stay. They wanted me to become a priestess, one of many priestesses who worshipped them and yes, slept with them. So one overcast afternoon, I snuck off and I never went back.

[00:15:30]

But Katherine stuck by her profit. She was willing to say or do anything to defend Nat in his vision.

[00:15:38]

I wore a size 12. I was very pretty. Nat loved it because he said, it's so great, Katherine, to have you. I said, what? He said, I need to do a real PR shoot at the airport. He's you could put on a bikini in a cute dress so we can take PR shots at the airport. And I do it.

[00:15:53]

What, did you do it? Oh, yeah. You did bikini shots for now.

[00:15:57]

Oh, yeah. We put them into a magazine. This is Kelly when you see it. So you were part of the marketing?

[00:16:03]

Yes, I did it all. Are you serious? So it didn't surprise me when she answered this way. Do you think that Nat also genuinely wanted to build a city or. Absolutely. That the city was a way for him to make money? Absolutely. Anybody who says the only reason they develop the cities where it was strictly to make money didn't know the man. When it's like a woman who decides one day with her husband that she wants to have a child and she has a vision for that child and then she gets pregnant.

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Most women would die for that child. That's the kind of vision that Nat had. And he worked at it not once a week, not once a month, but every day of his life. And he instilled that vision in other people. That's why we have the city we have today. Catherine said this without a hint of irony in her voice, as if the city we have today is some gleaming metropolis. And it just isn't. But I talked to someone who knew a different side of Nat Mendelson.

[00:17:25]

Meet Nat Mendelsohn, the dad. That's after a break. Money messes with everything, especially these days. This is uncomfortable, tells those stories like how the economic downturn affects romances and friendships and how getting laid off or having to lay people off can change the way you see yourself.

[00:17:57]

This is uncomfortable as a weekly show for Marketplace about life and how money messes with it.

[00:18:03]

The show was funny, a little tense and just a little uncomfortable, like talking about money is in the first place. Subscribe to this is uncomfortable wherever you get your podcasts. My name is Alex Mendelsohn. And I am the adopted daughter of Nathan Mendleson. I mean, is that how you would actually describe. I don't know, really. I mean, I just know. But I guess for this, I thought maybe I should know. I would I would say, you know, Nathan Mendelsohn is my father.

[00:18:41]

Everyone seems to have a story of being charmed by Nat Mendelson. This is Alix's. He married my mother when I was about five. And actually the story goes that I was the one that asked him to marry her or us because he charmed me. Alex's mom, Sylvia, met Nat just as he was beginning to sell land in California city. It was 1958 or maybe 1959. Sylvia was in her late 20s and she was Jackie O. Pretty.

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She was raising Alex alone in a one bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. She met Nat at a party, and even though he was 13 years older than her, she was very enamored of him. So was Alex. He was always reciting little limericks and poems and made some very fun, playful faces. You know, he was maybe a little bit like a grant, a playful grandfather. He had a great laugh. Ha ha haw. Like a Santa.

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But lower grade.

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It only took three months for Alex to fall in love with the idea of Nat as her father. So she asked him to marry her mother. And he said yes.

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And I actually got a little pinkie ring also. Really? Yeah. Yeah. So Alex and Sylvia moved in with that into his house in the Hollywood Hills. It was a big house. It was a Spanish style estate. And it was perched on the edge of this very steep, winding street. It had high ceilings, French doors and a massive window in the living room. There was a piano. And while Sylvia played, Nat would dance with Alex around the living room.

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They played chess. They went on family trips to colonial cities in Mexico, where Nat couldn't stop talking about how the streets were laid out. Did you feel like you were father and daughter? Yeah. Yeah. And in fact, when I was about 13, I remember calling him up, asking him if I keep asking him if I could call him daddy. Would he mind like I had called him Nathan before that? Yeah, I'd never called him daddy.

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And he he got really choked up on the phone. I was kind of choked up, too. And he said, yes, I would love that.

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Alex slowly absorbed bits and pieces of Nat's life story.

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I know that he came to this country as a child. They were very poor.

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Nat moved to New York City from Czechoslovakia in the 1920s. He grew up in a tenement, but he landed a scholarship to Columbia, where he took classes in a rural sociology. During the war, he moved out to California and he worked for the federal government as an economist. His agency kept prices from skyrocketing, and they rations Tyre's sugar and shoes.

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Well, I just remember as a kid thinking it seemed like he had done absolutely every kind of job that was available.

[00:21:58]

Nat told her stories about his time as a professional dancer. Stories about how he got into real estate. There was money to be made selling suburban tract homes in Southern California to returning soldiers or and that's case selling them vacant land with the promise that this desert would become a city one day.

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He'd say, honey, this is just kind of be so wonderful. You know, this is gonna be a terrific community for people and it's going to bring people together and the streets are going to be rounded and there are going to be parks so that, you know, people have a sense of community and they come together and it's going to be wonderful.

[00:22:38]

Nat was always talking about the beautiful new future. And he liked to throw parties with Hollywood blacklisted types and self-described thinkers.

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He he gave himself a middle name of Karl with a K. After Karl Marx, who he admired tremendously and was constantly reading.

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OK. So this really surprised me because convincing thousands of people to buy land in a speculative desert city seems like the kind of thing Marx would hate. But then again, a lot of things about Nat Mendelson surprised me, like the fact that he never lived in California City.

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It's funny now that you mentioned that. No, I mean, and I never you know, you would think maybe he'd say we're gonna build a house here and. No. Things about not surprised Alex, too. She told me about this one time in the early 60s when she was a teenager. She saw Nat coming out of a restaurant with a young woman on his arm, a woman who was not her mother.

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And I was totally shocked. And he was totally shocked to see me on my bicycle on Hollywood Boulevard.

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Alex never said anything to her mom. But Cylvia figured it out eventually and soon enough. They were living alone in the Hollywood Hills. And that was the one in the small apartment in Santa Monica. He started drinking more. Drinking enough to scare Alex. Sometimes I'd go to visit him on a Sunday morning, spend the day with him, and he'd have a Bloody Mary that had a lot of booze in it and he'd have a few of those. You know, I became concerned about his drinking.

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In fact, I used to try to indirectly. You know, get him away from drinking something and say, let's go for a walk or, you know, interrupt him as he was pouring a drink to try and stop him, say, I guess I didn't really like it when he drank. Did it work? Occasionally, but not often. When that got engaged to one of his new girlfriends, Helen, he told Alex to go buy a dress for the wedding.

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When she asked how she would pay for it, he told her to just walk into any dress shop in the city and just tell them you're my daughter.

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But I knew. Los Angeles is a big city. Not everybody knows who he is. You know, I just thought he's lost connection with reality. It just it was an example to me of how his ego was just really getting. Weirdly bloated, the NAT who had charmed Alex, the playful grandfather, that she'd asked to marry her and her mother. That man was gone. Or maybe Alex was starting to see that the way he'd been the whole time.

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So that's Alex. But for most of the people I met, that was a different kind of father figure. He wasn't a prophet or a dad. He was California City's founding father, a man who got you excited to come be a pioneer and help him build a city from scratch. That's the man Pat Gordon knew.

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So why did you want to move out here? I love to desert. I just. I just love the desert.

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I love the beautiful skies and the open spot. And I always want to have a house in the middle of a section of land by myself.

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Peg Gordon is a small woman who reminds me of the homesteaders I met when I lived in North Dakota. Polite, but no bullshit. Tough. She was 83 when I first met her, and I got the sense that she considers herself kind of a living diary. The keeper of early California city memories. In 1961, Payton and her husband TV Yeah TV were living in Orange County. When they answered an ad looking for someone to run a grocery store in this new place called California City, Nat needed the things that make a town a town.

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Kids running in the street, cars on the roads, a place to buy groceries. Because Nat wasn't just building a city. He was building the idea of a city, a place you could picture yourself living.

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He was a dreamer, but he made dreamers of us all in the beginning. He lit our torch. How did he do it? Just because he was who he was is very honest man. And he was educated and he had studied pop people movement, you know. So we had confidence in him. And what did you think that the city was going to become? Well, we thought we were in on the beginning of a really good thing when people discovered our little secret out here about how wonderful it was to live here, that they would all come in the beginning.

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California City was a small town with just a handful of residents. They called themselves pioneers. And nearly all the pioneers knew Nat. He wasn't just the founding father. He was everyone's favorite. Uncle Ned eight macro with Judy Riggen box parents on Sundays. And it would stink up the house. Judy's dad was a quiet civil engineer whose job it was to survey property lines. He wasn't buddy buddy with many guys, but he was buddy buddy with that.

[00:28:14]

Nat give a college scholarship to the first boy born in California city. The city's first mayor, James Riley. He worked for Nats company. So did Councilman Sutherland and Councilman Loffler. And so did the wives of Councilman Sholes. And true it in California city. Nat was the pope and there was no separation of church and state.

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So I'm just gonna ask this outright and you can respond any way you want. But do you think Nat was running a land scam?

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No. No. I mean, you never felt like he was that landscaper ever. Neither did my husband, not brother, my sister in law. Those of us who worked hard in these small businesses. We thought a business, a very sincere person. But other pioneers had their doubts that Mendleson.

[00:29:06]

I knew him. I didn't like him.

[00:29:10]

Meet Nat Mendelson, the scoundrel. That's after a break.

[00:29:26]

Everybody has a podcast now. Right. Every celebrity, everybody knew it.

[00:29:30]

College, there are literally hundreds of thousands of podcasts out there. And, yeah, it's a bit of a mess. I'm Nick Quar. My new show, sort of the Pod. We'll give you the most interesting and important stories in podcasting, and I'll tell you why you should care. Servant of Pod Everything podcast from L.A. Studios.

[00:29:57]

Her Billy and Darlene Cox lived in California city from its inception in the late 1950s and one Sunday night. I talked to them for three hours at the Ford dealership in the town of my hobby, where until recently, Dylan sold trucks. We sat in a little room off the showroom and drink. Car dealership, coffee out of Styrofoam cups. If I saw these two on the street, I would not expect them to have been best friends since they were twelve or even get along perps long gray hair hung heavily on his shoulders.

[00:30:30]

He's a shorts and Birkenstocks kind of guy. Even in the winter, in his feet look like they have never seen the inside of a closed toed shoe. Dallen. Meanwhile, is a short club hair and baseball cap kind of guy. Black windbreaker. So he looked like he'd just finished a round of golf. He smelled strongly of cigarettes. Part of why they became best friends is there weren't a ton of other options growing up, California City was so small it took every single kid in town to play a game of flag football.

[00:31:03]

Boys and girls in Darlins big sister Rhonda was that terror. She was the fullback.

[00:31:10]

They spent a lot of time wandering around in the desert carrying sticks. I swung that thing and I whacked the cactus with it. Are making bonfires in the creek beds. Gee, probably there was more beer than soda. It's some of those events.

[00:31:29]

It feel like a lawless place. It wasn't lawless. It was just that there was no law.

[00:31:40]

They would sneak onto the golf course, they would cruise the artificial lake and paddleboats, they would sneak to the top of the concrete waterfall. All of those things were amenities that not Mendelssohn's company built, and they were also props to sell land. I learned this from a professor who did his dissertation on architecture in California City. I learned that Nat built a clay airstrip where chartered DC 3s full of potential buyers with land. He built these billboards shaped like cactus flowers.

[00:32:11]

They didn't say anything. They were just landmarks to help salesmen navigate the faceless desert. And before Nat built a high school or a medical center or a police department, he commissioned a million dollar city hall. It was designed by a famous German architect who called it the eighth wonder of the world. But people in town didn't want a German designed city hall. They wanted a sewer. They wanted a city that worked. And when they questioned Nat about it, he publicly called them cynics and doubting Thomases with scornful and negative attitudes, as if they were just a bunch of California city killjoys.

[00:32:50]

The city hall in that regard, built anyway, but some of the other props did, and they were beloved. The city pool being among the most popular. It was always crowded on hot days, which was most days in California city. The pool is where Dallen Cox first overheard the adults talking about Nat Mendelson.

[00:33:09]

And most of the comments that I heard led me to believe that he was just kind of a sleeping bag. Literally, that was the kind of impression that I got from it.

[00:33:20]

Herbes mom, Marion Lee, was one of the most outspoken of the pioneers. She'd been a nuclear physicist. And she also taught encryption and decoding in the military. She was not to be denied ever.

[00:33:34]

Very brilliant in that very brilliant woman. She didn't trust Nat Mendelson. She didn't trust him because Nat was trying to get the current residents of California city to pay for the things he wanted built. So in the early 1960s, California city was still gnat's private development, which meant he paved the roads. He planted the trees. He built the little city airport. But if California City Incorporated, if it became official, Net wouldn't have to pay for these things anymore.

[00:34:04]

The taxpayers would. And Hertzman Marion. She didn't like that idea. She thought Nat'l should finish what he started. He should make good on the things he had said were coming and he should do it on his own dime. I mean, he was the one making the money. Was she A.N. Corporation? Yes. And that was an unpopular opinion.

[00:34:25]

It was a highly divisive. Marion Lee was literally the first mother of California city. People listen when she talked. And that must have felt like he needed her support because he invited her to his home in the Hollywood Hills to try to convince her. And she brought Herb along. I was a Gogu. I was standing looking out at this wall of glass across the top of Los Hands lists and. And he's talking about building a new, wonderful city.

[00:34:56]

And it was just all glorious. Marion was having none of it. And back home in California city, she continued agitating. She talked to her friends at the monthly potlucks. She went to Sacramento to complain to politicians. And then the trouble began. By the time Herb told this story, it was late. The bad coffee was now bad and stale. Dalan was out in the parking lot on his sixth smoke break. So Herb was alone with me and my producers.

[00:35:29]

I didn't find out till several years later that my mother got phone call threats about the well-being of her children.

[00:35:42]

Who do you think was making the phone calls?

[00:35:45]

The threat appeared to come from the high profit side of the negotiations.

[00:35:55]

What do you mean? Corporate. But like from the development company. Yeah.

[00:36:03]

You think your mom was threatened by the California City Development Company or someone whose purpose was to eliminate the opposition to incorporation or whatever, because the company would stand to benefit by incorporating because they could pass the expenses off to the people.

[00:36:24]

And so people who didn't want to incorporate threaten the bottom line.

[00:36:30]

Yeah, the development company employed 35 or 40 percent of the people in town. They had a a powerful political voice.

[00:36:41]

Here's what Herb says happened next. Gnat's company bought their house. Gnat's company bought the building where his dad had his barbershop. Herb wouldn't say it felt like they were getting run out of town. But he did say the need to leave felt very urgent. Towards the end of the night, I asked Herman Dallen what they think about Nat Mendelson now.

[00:37:03]

I think that Mettlesome was a con artist in a way.

[00:37:06]

You have you have a vision, a dream, and you sell that visual dream to people and make them believe in it.

[00:37:14]

They'll spend their money. That's what conures do. It doesn't have to be anything. It's going to come to reality is this has to be a vision, a dream. And you sell people on that vision, that dream, and they'll spend their money.

[00:37:28]

After hearing all these different versions of Nat, it seemed like he would be whatever you needed him to be. As long as it served him now was a pioneer. To the people who craved the excitement of the frontier, he was a prophet. To a woman who believed in miracles. He was a daddy. To a little girl who needed one. He sold all these people what they wanted to buy a dream, a vision, a plan, a good investment, a sense that he'd take care of you.

[00:38:00]

It was the same thing. Marion Decru would do with Ben Perez 60 years later. As for Nats intentions for California City. Honestly, I'm still not sure. I mean, it's clear to me that in the beginning he had a dream, he had a plan, and he was optimistic and excited. But it's also clear to me that at some point that changed. He realized it was easier to sell the promise of a city than to build one.

[00:38:26]

And so the dream became a scam. Whatever his intentions net Karl Marx, Mendelsohn made a ton of money. He hired an army of salespeople and they made hundreds of millions of dollars. It was an enormous operation. How did he pull it off? The answer to that question is next time on California City. California City was written and reported by me. Emily Guerin, Barwin, champion Knicks and James Kim did our sound design, production and story editing.

[00:39:20]

Mike Kesler was our editor, fact checking and additional production by Gabriel Donna Tof and David Rodriguez, mixing by our engineer, Valentino Rivera. Original music by Andrew Even. And special thanks to Maria Konnikova for her insights on dreamers and con men. The Jane and Ron Olson Center for Investigative Reporting helped make California City possible. Ron Olson is an honorary trustee for Southern California Public Radio. The Olson's do not have any editorial input on the stories we cover. California City is a production of L.A. studios.

[00:40:20]

L.A. is where I was born and raised. For years, I've documented life in this city, not the pop culture headlines, but the stories of people and communities that hardly get recognized.

[00:40:39]

Cowboy. Good morning. I brought Ali.

[00:40:42]

Where ever I travel to around the world as a journalist. And now I'm back home.

[00:40:48]

And I said, look, look, those cowboys, there are black cowboys. I taught him how to do everything he knows. You can imagine like being exercised from your home when you're a baby. And then all of a sudden you just get released into the world.

[00:41:04]

Me, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe made people feel as confident as he was. How do you dress? Like, you know, like a casual gangster.

[00:41:17]

I'm Walter Thompson, Hernando's. This show is about trying to understand what it means for me to call L.A., my home from L.A. studios. This is tough. You love. Listen, wherever you get your podcast.