Deep in the heart of the Mojave Desert lies Baker, California, a desolate little town along the I-15 freeway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Best known as home to The World’s Tallest Thermometer, Baker has become infamous for its many abandoned businesses.
On the final day of my epic road trip through the abandoned places of the Western United States, I crossed into California. After spending a night in the ghost town of Cisco, Utah, I took in the beauty of Utah’s picturesque Dead Horse Point State Park and Arches National Park. As much as I’d love to share my pictures and tell you how incredibly beautiful these places are, I’ll resist the urge, since this is a site devoted to abandoned places, not gorgeous natural phenomena.
If you’ve ever driven along I-15 between Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you’ve probably noticed the monolithic thermometer standing tall over Baker, California. You may have even stopped in Baker to refuel, grab a bite to eat or snap a picture or two of the towering attraction.
Baker began in 1908 as a station of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. It later became a town and was named after Richard C. Baker, a borax and railroad magnate. Located at the southern end of Death Valley, Baker is nicknamed “The Gateway to Death Valley”.
The World’s Largest Thermometer was created by Willis Herron, who owned many businesses in Baker and, at one point, was said to have employed half of Baker’s population. Hoping to draw more visitors into Baker, Herron partnered with Young Electric Sign Co. in 1991 to build the 134-foot monument. Its height was chosen to commemorate the hottest day ever recorded, July 10 1913, which reached a scorching 134 degrees Fahrenheit in nearby Death Valley.
The enormous thermometer cost $750,000 to build, and was blown over by high winds before it was officially lit. It was quickly rebuilt with a sturdier design.
Willis Herron suffered health problems and sold several of his business endeavors to Matt Pike in 2005 before passing away in 2007. In 2012, Pike turned off the thermometer, citing an $8000/month electric bill and inaccurate temperature readings. When Willis Herron’s widow Barbara learned that the beloved landmark was being considered for demolition, she repurchased and refurbished it. On July 10, 2014, the official re-lighting was held.
Next to the thermometer sits the abandoned Bun Boy Restaurant, which was also owned by Willis Herron and purchased by Matt Pike in 2005.
The restaurant originally opened in 1926 and Herron became an investor in 1950. Matt Pike bought Bun Boy restaurant in 2005 and turned it into a Bob’s Big Boy franchise. The restaurant closed in May 2013 after Pike faced legal trouble for not paying franchise fees.
Bun Boy now sits abandoned with a weathered Bun Boy sign out front. It is unclear whether the name changed before it closed in 2013, or if it was briefly reopened under the Bun Boy name after its time as a Bob’s Big Boy.
I was able to capture a few pictures of the restaurant’s interior through a window. It is remarkably clean and the tables still have their settings. The property is currently for sale.
Across the street is another abandoned building bearing the Bun Boy sign. I wasn’t able to determine whether it is a previous location or perhaps a business office. If you have any information, please let me know in the comment section at the end of this article.
Next door is another abandoned building, which once sold artwork.
Beside the Bun Boy Restaurant sits the abandoned Bun Boy Motel, which appears to have closed around the same time as the restaurant. The Yelp reviews of guests who had stayed there are quite negative.
The motel lobby is in rough condition. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it had closed many years earlier.
A block or two down Baker Blvd stand the remains of another abandoned motel, Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel. The Tiki-themed establishment opened in 1957, when there was still a demand for lodging for travelers crossing the desert.
Economic hardship following the Great Recession and increased competition from Casino hotels in Nevada forced Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel to close in 2009. Its closure left only one motel still in business in Baker.
The main building, though gutted, still has a beautiful curved ceiling that appears structurally sound.
The courtyard, decorated with palm trees, looks like it was once an excellent place to relax with a drink by the pool.
Unfortunately the property is strewn with trash.
The rooms were sturdily built and are probably structurally sound, if you look past the graffiti and vandalism.
Across the street stood another vacant restaurant.
According to the sign on the door, there were plans for reopening, but I’m not sure if they ever came to fruition. Someone painted a Banksy-style image on the back of the building. I thought the man looked like a thin version of Dick Cheney, but it’s actually Mark Rothko.
The stunning photos were taken by Jim Sullivan. Jim Sullivan is a traveler, who shares his stories with followers. If you’d like to see more abandoned places in America, then check out our articles on the Abandoned Remnants of Arizona’s Mesa and The Domes of Casa Grande — A Mysterious Abandoned Place in Arizona