Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Trona May Be Hell On Earth - But It's Still One Up On Los Angeles!

Once a prosperous and tidy company town with desert vistas, Trona is in decline, cherishing its memories but living with crime and blight.

By David Kelly
Times Staff Writer

October 4, 2006

TRONA, Calif. — Fed up with the crime, congestion and cost of Orange County, Fred Hermon went looking for a place where he could be alone, a place so remote, so unappealing that few would ever want to live there.

His strategy was simple: Locate the popular, pricey towns on a map and move steadily outward. That's where he found Trona.

When he searched the Internet for information, the word "hell" kept popping up — 'Is Trona Anywhere Near Hell?," "Where the Hell Is Trona?," "Long, Lonely Ride Through Hell."

Hermon didn't actually expect to find perdition as he descended through Poison Canyon into Trona three years ago, but the smell of sulfur, the blast-furnace heat and barren landscape made it feel uncomfortably close.

A real estate agent showed him a neighborhood with block after block of burned-out homes.

"I said, 'Oh my God, no,' " he recalled. "Another area looked like Los Angeles after the riots.

Pretty bad - huh? But even Trona has one thing Los Angeles for all its attractions does not have - a musuem dedicated to its history.

The pride of Trona is the Old Guest House Museum, a shrine to the town and the minerals that made it. There are old photos of John W. Searles. His violin sits behind glass. Small bottles of potash, borax and fly ash are displayed, along with maps, history books and assorted mining and railroad paraphernalia.

Margaret Brush, 79, is curator and the town's most energetic promoter. She recently won funding for a kiosk along the road to Death Valley offering information about Trona.

"We needed something to attract people to Trona and to our museum," she said.

So if even Trona can support its own museum - why can not the City of Los Angeles?

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