Llano Del Rio

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Llano Del Rio
Llano Del Rio ruins in late 2009
Location Llano, California
Coordinates 34°30′23.3″N 117°49′37.5″W / 34.506472°N 117.827083°W / 34.506472; -117.827083Coordinates: 34°30′23.3″N 117°49′37.5″W / 34.506472°N 117.827083°W / 34.506472; -117.827083
Official name: Llano Del Rio Cooperative Company
Reference No. 933[1]
Llano Del Rio is located in Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Llano Del Rio
Location in Los Angeles County

Llano Del Rio (officially organized as The Llano Del Rio Company of Nevada) was a commune (or "colony") located in what is now Llano, California, east of Palmdale in the Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County. The charter was issued October 15, 1915. by socialist political candidate Job Harriman, after he had failed his bid to become the mayor of Los Angeles. The Llano Del Rio Colony settled in the southern edge of the Mojave Desert along Highway 138 near what is now 165th Street East, in the alluvial plain that spread out to the north from the San Gabriel Mountains. The colony took advantage of water from Big Rock Creek, an intermittent stream that flowed from the San Gabriel Mountains. Several structures were constructed using local granite boulders and lumber, including a hotel, meeting house, and water storage tank. There was also a small open aqueduct made of granite cobbles and cement. The remnants of the built features are still visible at the site, which has been abandoned for decades.

During 1918, the colony was abandoned. Llano Del Rio turned out to be too far from other settlements to develop a sustaining economy, and the water supply from Big Rock Creek proved to be unreliable. Some of the settlers, approximately 60 families in all, relocated to form New Llano, Louisiana.[2]


Full page ad for the new Llano del Rio colony published in July 1914 in The Western Comrade, a monthly magazine purchased by Job Harriman to help promote the venture.

Llano Del Rio, which was organized under the Llano Del Rio Company was a corporate-run socialist Utopian society initiated by Job Harriman, following his narrow defeat in a runoff election for the mayorship of Los Angeles.[3] He believed that the success of socialism depended not only on politics but also on the realization of socialist principles. Harriman did not attempt to reform all of society; he believed that by creating a functioning socialist community within the larger society of capitalism, the larger society would gradually convert to socialism. Although Llano filed for bankruptcy in 1918, from the time of its official formation in 1914 until 1917 the colony experienced extreme economic and political growth. By 1917, the population was over nine hundred members. In just over three years, the colonists of Llano were able to form a school system, create high producing farms, start numerous clubs and sports teams, and build many industries.[4]


Job Harriman, a lawyer and politician, founded Llano del Rio. He was the Socialist Labor Party candidate for governor of the state of California. However, after having little success as a Labor Party candidate, Harriman began to align himself with the more mainstream labor movement. In 1900, he became the vice-presidential candidate to Eugene Debs. While campaigning with Debs, Harriman, though still loyal to socialist principles, began to believe that for the Socialist Party to gain success it needed to replace its political base with an economic one.[5] Socialism would eventually transform capitalism from within. Harriman also believed that for socialism to be successful it needed to be implemented economically as well as politically: “‘It became apparent to me that a people would never abandon their means of livelihood, good or bad, capitalistic or otherwise, until other methods were developed which would promise advantages at least as good as those by which they were living.’”[6]


Llano del Rio was planned by Alice Constance Austin and is her most recognized project. She was hired by Job Harriman, with the intention to build a cooperative community. She designed a circular city plan that included administrative buildings, restaurants, churches, schools, markets, etc. The houses had a "feminist" design and included plans for a kitchenless house, communal daycare areas, built-in furniture, and heated tile floors, all of which would serve in reducing the amount of domestic work done by women.[7]

Starting the colony[edit]

In 1913 Harriman, with Bert Engle, Frank McMahon, and Frank E. Wolfe, set out to realize a functioning socialist society that operated within a capitalist country. During the colony’s early period, what was to become Llano Del Rio was only inhabited by five families. Members bought water and land rights cheaply from the Mescal Water and Land Company. In 1914, as membership was growing rapidly, the colony bought out Mescal Water and Land and became incorporated as the Llano Del Rio Company. Harriman insisted upon this purchase water and land rights. To become a member of Llano, one was required purchase exactly 2,000 stock shares and to reside at Llano. Colonists were allowed to buy a maximum of three fourths of their stock shares on credit.[8] “Llano was not a ‘co-operative colony, but a corporation, conducted upon the lines of ordinary private corporations,’ Harriman obviously took pains to protect the experiment from being hounded to death by his corporate enemies in the business community of Los Angeles."[9]

Membership demographic[edit]

The Western Comrade conveyed grandiose plans for the Llano del Rio colony to its readers. This raw rock-walled building with a corrugated metal roof was to be "remodeled for trout hatchery and motion picture factory," according to the photo caption.

When Llano opened to public membership on May Day of 1914 the first inhabitants were members of the Young People’s Socialist League. At the time, only one building, the community center, had been constructed. During the majority of Llano’s existence very few permanent structures were built. But, because of the warm dry climate of Southern California, the lack of buildings was not a problem. Members often lived in canvas tents. After the first enthusiastic members arrived, C.V. Eggleston worked as a stock agent for the Llano Company, to increase Llano’s size. However, he was more of a salesman than a propagator of socialism. His sales techniques gave buyers unrealistic expectations about the luxury of living at Llano, which later created discontent in the community when these expectations were not met.[10]

Colonists were also drawn to Llano by the good wages promised to members. Initially members were given a salary of four dollars a day, and then fees were deducted for living expenses. However, as membership increased, the wage system was abandoned, because of an inefficient bookkeeping system and the negative appeal Llano’s high wages created. Members believed that by offering such good wages, capitalist-minded—not socialist-minded—people were attracted to Llano. In the end, a system was implemented that guaranteed all colonists’ needs would be met in exchange for their labor.[11]

Admission requirements[edit]

Applicants for membership were required to be idealistic, industrious, and sober. To ensure standards were met, applicants needed three references, written ideally by a local union president or secretary. Questions testing an applicant’s dedication to socialism, such as, “Will solving the economic problem ultimately lead to solving the social problem?”,[12] were also part of the entrance procedure. Additionally, only Caucasians were admitted. An article in The Western Comrade attempted to explain this admittance discrimination, “The rejection of these applications are [sic] not due to race prejudice but because it is not deemed expedient to mix the races in these communities."[12] In general, the Californian Socialist Party of that time was racially exclusive.

Life at Llano[edit]


Colonists outside a crude machine shop at the Llano del Rio colony, 1914.

Although Llano did not export goods to outside markets, its local economy was almost completely sustaining. The economy included a paint shop, agriculture, orchards, a poultry yard, a rabbitry, a print shop, and a fish hatchery.[13] Despite the arid environment and sandy soil, Llano’s farms flourished. Using the water purchased by the Llano Del Rio Company, Llano’s farmers transformed the dry soil into fertile farmland. Southern California’s warm climate proved to be ideal for agricultural production. Alfalfa, corn, and grain were Llano’s staple crops. By 1916, Llano grew ninety percent of the food eaten at the colony. However, agricultural exports were prevented by Llano’s distance from a train depot. Though Llano’s export economy never developed much, some goods, such as rag rugs and underwear, were sold at external markets.[14]


Llano had a good school system, which followed both the Montessori and the Industrial principles of teaching. Montessori and Industrial schools encourage practical and active learning, teaching methods consistent with socialist values. In the Industrial School or Kids’ Colony children raised livestock, built the school’s facilities, made their own laws, and held their own disciplinary hearings. Consistent with Llano’s philosophy of gender division of labor, girls were registered into the “domestic science department.”[13]

Culture and free time[edit]

May Day, a holiday that celebrates laborers, was a community celebration at Llano, including a parade and a community picnic. Dances were held every Thursday and Saturday night. One colonist praised these dances saying, “‘If Llano never offers or gives me more than the pleasure of attending these dances I shall feel repaid for all the effort I have made to become a member of this Colony."[15] Additionally, there was a champion baseball team and other club sports. There was even a drama society. For entertainment, Llano staged black-face minstrel shows, swear words were prohibited when in the presence of women or children, and liquor was not allowed unless permission by a doctor was given. Violation of this ordinance was punishable by unemployment or expulsion from Llano.[16]

Llano’s downfall[edit]


The ruins of Llano Del Rio, December 2009
The ruins of Llano Del Rio, December 2009

The political stability of Llano was threatened by internal power struggles between the Board of Directors, which was composed of seven (and eventually nine) members and the General Assembly, which was composed of all of the Llano Company’s stockholders, the members of the colony. Though the Board was efficient, it caused political dissent. Llano’s “Declaration of Principles” proclaimed “equal ownership, equal wage, and equal social opportunities.”[12] However, Llano was not run in a democratic manner. The Board dictated all rules and regulations. Eventually groups developed, such as the “Brush Gang”, opposing the authoritarian rule of the Board.[17] Some members also believed that Harriman lacked strong socialist principles. One of the founders of the “Brush Gang”, Frank Miller, believed Harriman to be “Czar-like” and against the democratic election of Llano’s leadership. Additionally, many “Brush Gang” members believed that not only the political but also the economic layout of Llano was counter to socialist ideals.

However, rule by the General Assembly was also problematic. Its decisions were influenced by personal disputes, which created an ineffective political environment. Resolutions were disputed for hours, made, and then rebuked at the next meeting. In response to dissenters, one of Harriman’s supporter’s, RK Williams, wrote, “Newcomers arrived here filled with idealism and notions of a weird form of democracy that are utterly out of place in an institution dealing with... practicalities. It must be insisted that if this colony is to exist we must allow the well tried and wrought out formulas of corporations organized under capitalism... We are not attempting a Utopian phantasmagoria.’[18] Supporters felt that unseating the Board would result in anarchy and chaos and that central control was essential to the formation of a flourishing socialist colony.

World War I[edit]

Although Llano supported the Socialist Party’s pacifism, the threat of the draft was real. Llano attempted to ensure that all members were conscientious objectors, still the colony lost young men to the draft. WWI also posed an economic threat, because the wartime industry created jobs with higher wages and many less committed members of Llano left to work in the newly booming economy.[19]


During the early period of Llano, Harriman had secured large amounts of water for the growing colony. Though in theory Llano had enough water to sustain itself and to grow, much of the water could only be accessed by building a dam. Llano applied to California for a permit to build a dam. However, California Commissioner of Corporations denied Llano’s application to construct a dam saying, “‘Your people do not seem to have the necessary amount of experience and maybe the sums of money it will involve.’”[20] Though planners were aware of Llano’s water shortage, they continued to deny the crisis to potential buyers until May 1917.

The move[edit]

In November 1917 The Western Comrade magazine announced that the majority of the colony was going to move to an alternative site in New Llano, Louisiana. Despite the impending relocation of Llano, Harriman asserted that Llano had “progressed from a ‘Utopian, chimerical idea’ to a concrete practicality – from a dozen dreamers to a thousand determined doers.”[21] New Llano never attained the same size or level of productivity as the original colony. This failure was most likely due to cultural clashes with the greater culture of Louisiana and the Great Depression.[22] The remaining Llano community in California ended due to faulty legal maneuvers. In 1918, Llano filed for bankruptcy.


Llano is given tribute at Twin Oaks, a contemporary intentional community of 100 members in Virginia. All Twin Oaks' buildings are named after communities that are no longer actively functioning, and "Llano" is the name of one of the communal kitchens.

The site is now registered as California Historical Landmark #933.[1]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Llano Del Rio". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-07. 
  2. ^ according to "Tall Pines II: A History of Vernon Parish, Louisiana and its People" / Wise, Erbon, Library Of Congress # 87-51644
  3. ^ Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: The AFL in the Progressive Era, 1910-1915. New York: International Publishers, 1980; pg. ???.
  4. ^ Francis Robert Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, 1888-1918. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997; pg. 160.
  5. ^ Robert Hine, California's Utopian Colonies. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1953; pg. 115.
  6. ^ Hine, California's Utopian Colonies, pg. 117.
  7. ^ "American Utopia: A Brief History of Llano del Rio Cooperative Colony," lpb.org/
  8. ^ Hine, California's Utopian Colonies, pg. 120.
  9. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 164.
  10. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 165.
  11. ^ Hine, California's Utopian Colonies, pg. 120.
  12. ^ a b c Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 166.
  13. ^ a b Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 169.
  14. ^ Hine, California's Utopian Colonies, pg. 122.
  15. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 170.
  16. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 171.
  17. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 167.
  18. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 168.
  19. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 174,
  20. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 173.
  21. ^ Shor, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, pg. 175.
  22. ^ Hine, California's Utopian Colonies, pg. 130.

Further reading[edit]