Southern California Has A Lost City Most People Don’t Know About
Throughout the world, the country, and even here in this state, there are so-called lost cities and towns where people once lived normal lives, working and raising families, but that somehow disappeared. Some were destroyed by disasters, others are
forgotten ghost towns, while still others were buried or slid off a cliff into the sea. But there is an entirely different kind of lost city in Southern California that very few people (even locals like me!) know anything about, and it is fascinating.
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in Santa Barbara County, stretching for 18 miles along the coast, make up the second-largest remaining dune system in California and is also the largest intact coastal dune ecosystem on the planet. Some of the tallest dunes in the entire world are found here. But that is just a part of what makes this place genuinely interesting.
In 1923, film-maker Cecil B. DeMille created an Egyptian city in the sands of Guadalupe, California, in order to film the epic silent film, The Ten Commandments. This vast desert-like landscape, despite being on the ocean, was the perfect setting due to its visual similarity to the Sahara Desert, or at least how Westerners thought it looked.
Once the film was completed, DeMille ordered that the massive set be broken down and buried in the sand - secretly - so they could not be re-used. Reportedly, he was also required by the then-owner of the land to leave the dunes as he had found them. Few knew the set’s location and it was soon forgotten, becoming just “The Lost City of DeMille.”
In 1983, a couple of film enthusiasts found the site. Their discovery was based on a quote in DeMille’s autobiography that playfully hinted at the sands of Guadalupe hiding what would appear to be an Egyptian civilization.
Much of DeMille’s “city” still lies in shards and pieces below the surface of the dunes, but a few artifacts have been recovered and can be seen at the
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center. Rubble from the set sometimes naturally resurfaces along the dunes.
A total of 1,600 workers labored on the set, using 550,000 feet of lumber, some 25,000 pounds of nails, 75 miles of wire, and 300 tons of plaster.
Filming of The Ten Commandments involved 3,500 actors and at least 5,000 animals (including 200 camels), for which 20,000 pounds of hay were needed every day.
The set was no mere facade. Scenes from the silent film show how enormous and detailed even the interiors were.
In addition to the actual set, DeMille also built a tent city for the cast and crew, known as Camp DeMille.
At the Dunes Center, a poster provides statistics such as the presence of 125 cooks, 500 tents, and the consumption of 7,500 sandwiches, 2,500 apples and oranges, and 400 gallons of coffee each day. Remnants of daily life in the “camp” have been recovered, such as tools, cough syrup bottles, etc., which can be seen at the Dunes Center.
At the time, this was one of the largest movie sets ever built, with the main piece being a 120 feet tall, 720 feet wide Egyptian palace with 21 huge plaster sphinxes - each 35 feet tall - leading up to it. The set was known as the “City of the Pharaoh.”
The set included four Pharaoh statues that each stood over 30 feet in height. The huge plaster fragments on display just hint at the enormity of the “lost city.”
The Lost City of DeMille had to be absolutely incredible to see, and can you imagine stumbling on a piece of a Sphinx while hiking through the dunes? Did you know about this temporary city that existed in Southern California? Have you been to the
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center? If so, please tell us about your experience in the comments! We just love hidden gems and fun facts. Check out a few more little-known facts about SoCal!
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