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In Search of Los Angeles’ Lost Socialist Colony, Llano del Rio

By: 
Joshua Frank

It’s a typical summer day in the desert of Southern California. Very little breeze and blazing, unforgiving heat. We’re in the Mojave on an excursion to find the ruins of Llano del Rio, a socialist colony that sprouted up here in 1914. The temperature is well over 100 and it feels even hotter. As we drive past barren fields, a few groves of Joshua Trees and miles upon miles of scrub brush along Pearblossom Highway — that is, California State Route 138 — it’s hard to imagine an off-the-grid band of leftists calling this sunbaked land home over a century ago.

Job Harriman, the founder of this utopian community, ran as Eugene Debs’ Veep in 1900 and later for California governor and twice for mayor of Los Angeles, almost winning the thing in 1911 with 44% of the vote. He likely would have won had he not lent his legal services to the infamous McNamara brothers, who blew up the Los Angeles Times building a year earlier. His association with the McNamaras was the death knell of his political aspirations.