Posted on 08/24/2013

Photo taken on August 13, 2013

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SR 177
US Route 60
Steve Ragsdale
Desert Center
Interstate 10
Riverside County
state route

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Gilbarco Gas Pumps

Gilbarco Gas Pumps
Detail of the 1950's Texaco gasoline pumps which are stored in the swimming pool (next to the Desert Center Café) .

Located between the cities of Indio and Blythe Desert Center was founded in 1921 by “Desert Steve” Ragsdale. In 1915, while traveling from his Palo Verde Valley farm (along the Colorado River) to Los Angeles, his car broke down in the desert. A prospector living in the area rescued him. Later, Ragsdale bought out the prospector and started an automobile service station and rest stop on the site. He named it “Desert Center” and it prospered even though it was 50 miles (80 km) from anything. When U.S. Route 60 was built 5 miles (8 km) to the north Ragsdale relocated “Desert Center,” and its auto garage, in order to be on the new highway (this time adding a market, post office, motel cabins and a swimming pool next to the 24 hour café). He also opened businesses in Cactus City, Hell, Skyway, Box Canyon and Shaver’s Well. But, around 1950, Ragsdale was accused of playing around with an employee and he left Desert Center, in disgrace, to live in self-imposed exile in a log cabin near the summit of Santa Rosa Mountain (leaving Desert Center to be run, and eventually acquired by his sons).

Desert Center is, interestingly enough, the birthplace of Kaiser Permenente health care. In the early 1930’s Dr. Sidney Garfield left an unprofitable practice (in depression-era Los Angeles) to treat Colorado River Aqueduct workers near Desert Center. This, too, was unprofitable (because workers rarely paid for treatment). But Henry J. Kaiser (whose company was building this section of aqueduct) had an idea to deduct 5 cents a day from his workers’ paychecks (for health care) and use Garfield’s clinic for treatment. This worked and after the aqueduct was completed Kaiser had Garfield manage the health care for 50, 000 workers on the Grand Coulee Dam. The practice eventually evolved into Kaiser Permanente. A roadside marker (placed next to the grocery, in 1992) honors the health care giant’s birthplace).

“Desert Center” temperatures average, in summer, 83°-104° F (26°-40° C) and, in winter, 45°-65° F (7°–18° C).

Today the “center” of “Desert Center” is mostly closed and abandoned. This includes the gas station, school, cafes and market. Children attend school in either Eagle Mountain (13 miles, 20.9 km away) or Blythe (49 miles, 78.9 km away). Nearby there are two mobile home parks (mostly for winter visitors) and the Kaiser-created golf community of Lake Tamarisk. The public airport is now privately owned. The many dead palm trees one sees upon approaching “Desert Center” are a failed 1990’s project of son Stanley Ragsdale to create a “tree-ring circus.”

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