Slab City, California
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|Location||Sonoran Desert, California (4 miles northeast of Niland)|
Slab City, also called The Slabs, is largely a snowbird community in the Sonoran Desert located in Imperial County, California, 156 miles northeast of San Diego 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.
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There was need for a new training facility for field and anti-aircraft artillery units. 631.345 acres were obtained to create the training base. The government said that the base was to be named after Brig. Gen Robert Henry Dunlap, U.S.M.C. The completion of the camp was finished on October 15th of 1942. The camp had fully functioning buildings, water, roads, and sewage collections. The base was used for a three year period that was during a war time period. The base was contained until 1949 and then later was dismantled in 1956. In 1942 the construction of Camp Dunlap began to prepare the United States Marine Corps for combat duty. By 1949 military operations at Camp Dunlap had been greatly reduced, but a crew continued until the base was dismantled. By 1956 all buildings were 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.
At some point, a chemical company in Oakland hired 20 men to harvest creosote leaves near Niland. Some workers moved closer to work by living in small trailers at the abandoned Camp Dunlap. This was the start of what is now called Slab City.
By 1965 migration to Slab City had begun. Riverside County ordered people to leave a camping area at Painted Canyon near Mecca. These people had all sorts of living arrangements; besides trailers, there were cardboard and plywood shacks, and a variety of vehicles and school buses. Some migrated to what is now Bombay Beach and the abandoned Marine Training Base Camp Dunlap now known as Slab City.
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. There are couches that provide limited seating for the watchers. 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.
In popular culture
- The music video for "Fly" released by South Korean-American based singer Jessica Jung on May 17, 2016 from her debut extended play With Love, J features attractions in Slab City. 
- The music video for "Praying" released by Kesha on July 6, 2017 from her album "Rainbow" features various areas of Slab City. 
- The music video for British dubstep musician Rusko's single "Everyday" features Slab City prominently.
- Canadian musician Scott Helman featured Slab City in the music video for "Kinda Complicated".
- Below Sea Level (2008), a multiple award-winning documentary by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi, was filmed in Slab City. The film was shot over a five-year period and documented the lives of a small group of otherwise homeless residents living in RV's, buses, tents etc.
- It is visited in the BBC made-for-TV documentary film American Nomads (November 28, 2011).
- Into the Wild (2007) includes 14 minutes of the film shot in Slab City. It shows Salvation Mountain creator Leonard Knight talking about what the Mountain means to him, and some musicians playing on 'The Range' stage, as well as some general shots of the City, giving a small view into what it's like to live there.
- Slab City was featured in an episode of NPR documentary program Hearing Voices called "Small Town" the week of November 11, 2009. The segment's synopsis read: "This town in California never did exist, though it's full of folk who live there: an unofficial RV Park and home to the homeless thrives in culture and community."
- The first episode of the second season of Alice Isn't Dead, The Last Free Place, partly takes place in Slab City, and is referred to in the title of the episode
- Slab City is also featured in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V complete with the Range, Salvation Mountain, and even a trailer park called “Stab City” an obvious reference to the Slabs.
Threats to the Community
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. 
- Perry, Tony (December 18, 2011). "Slab City, a trailer park utopia, thrives in remote desert". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-03-25.
- Motlagh, Jason (February 3, 2012). "Slab City, Here We Come: Living Life Off the Grid in California's Badlands". Time. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
- "Slab City: An Escape For The Down And Out". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- "Historic California Posts: Camp Dunlap". www.militarymuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-05-07.
- "Historic California Posts: Camp Dunlap". www.militarymuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- "Slab City: An Escape For The Down And Out". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- Leonard Knight of Salvation Mountain fame dies at 82
- Yuki Toy. "ロサンゼルスから東へ320km 砂漠の共同生活地区「イーストジーザス」に住む漂流者たちの生活に潜入レポート – 自由って何？". ロサンゼルス発 ジャパラマガジン®.
- Johnson, Robert (November 21, 2014). "13 Rules for Surviving the East Jesus Artist Community". Pixable. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
- "6 Reasons You're Picturing the Post-Apocalypse Wrong". Cracked.com. Retrieved 2015-11-11.
- Bastow, Clem (September 25, 2014). "Here's What It's Like to Live in a Sustainable Art Installation That's Being Slowly Swallowed by the Desert". Junkee. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
- Carone, Angela. "Will Slab City Remain The Last Free Place In America?". KPBS Public Media. Retrieved 2018-05-07.
- "JESSICA (제시카) (Feat. Fabolous) - FLY Official Music Video". YouTube. Retrieved May 17, 2016.
- https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v-Dur3uXXCQ. Missing or empty
- "Rusko - Everyday [Official Music Video]". YouTube. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
- Luke, Rodriguez. "Scott Helman's "Kinda Complicated" Music Video Is Out!". iHeartRadio. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
- Gianfranco Rosi (Director) (2008). Below Sea Level. Slab City, California.
- American Nomads. BBC. November 28, 2011.
- Sean Penn (Director) (October 19, 2007). Into The Wild.
- "HV076 - Small Town: HearVox". hearingvoices.com. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
- "Talk of a Sale Fills a Hippie Haven With Bad Vibes". The New York Times. 2015-03-11. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-05-07.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Slab City, California.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Niland.|
- East Jesus
- Salvation Mountain
- Slab City and East Jesus on Abandoned USA
- Tioga George's "Vagabonders" webpage
- Slab City footage and interviews by Sherman George and Greg Durbin, University of California in San Diego Library Digital Collections
- Slab City Stories
- Down and Out Escape to 'Slab' in California Desert, NPR Around the Nation, January 24, 2012
- 2012 Time Magazine article.
- 2004 New York Times article, login may be required.
- 2003 UK Guardian article.
- Howser, Huell (January 8, 1997). "Slab City (806)". California's Gold. Chapman University Huell Howser Archives.