History of the Tower

California Historical Landmark 939

The Desert View Tower and Boulder Park, California Historical Monument #939, has a long history.It has been a way station for travelers East and West for centuries, and you may find in the rocks many signs left of their passage (ask about the Yoni (yonee). The 1880’s saw Easterners begin to move into the area and use these trails. Still visible below the Tower is the old stage station at Mountain Springs. The original road (barely visible) required an ox team to assist the wagons and coaches up the hill.20140714_064248

In 1862-70, about a mile north of here Peter Larkin and Joe Stancliff used a stone house as a store from which ox teams pulled wagons up a 30% grade. The San Diego & Fort Yuma Turnpike Company used the site as a toll road station until 1876. The crumbling house was replaced in 1917 by another still visible to is east, but road changes, beginning in 1878 and culminating in today’s highway, have left the older stone house ruins inaccessible.

Around 1900 saw the first road complete by the Tower. We have a picture of at least one of the opening days of the “new” road – seems like all of San Diego came in their Model A’s. The road continued down below at least partly on sections of the “Old Plank Road.” The wood in the Tower was salvaged from the old road. The Desert Tower was built by the 1900 road builders. You can see sections of the old road below the Tower, broken by the Interstate highway in 1965. 

By Bill Morrow from Tucson, AZ, US - Before it was Interstate 8, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16007591

By Bill Morrow from Tucson, AZ, US – Before it was Interstate 8, CC BY 2.0

Usually the interstates stayed away from the older roads that had homes and businesses, but in this case the cut below the Tower is the only possible way through the pass, so they blasted right on through the old road to build the new interstate.

Bert Vaughn of San Diego is credited as the developer of the “new” road and had the Tower built as “a monument ot the pioneers” in 1923. He had bought the whole town of Jacume (now Jacumba), which he believed was scheduled to become a border crossing. You can imagine what a big deal Jacumba would be now if he had been right! Vaughn also had much to do with the development of El Centro, including the Barbara Worth Hotel. He was a bigshot, indeed, out here, then.Tower - Early 1

Vaughn somehow had title to this land (the Indians didn’t count) and wages were cheap “a dollar a day and a jug of wine.”

Originally located where the freeway intersections the old road, below its permanent site, The Tower was built as an advertisement for his bar and became a roadside attraction because of the cooler temperatures and, of course, the spectacular view.

The justly famous Boulder Park was created in 1933 by an unemployed engineer, out of work during the (last) depression, named Merle Ratcliff, who sculpted representations of mostly reptiles and fanciful animals out of the huge stone boulders.

In 1947, Dennis Newman bought the Tower from the Vaughns. He added the round lower floor to the Tower in 1950, which made it much as you see it today. It is now the last functioning roadside attraction on the San Diego to Yuma corridor.Ben Schultz, a native San Diegan, first visited the Tower  when he was four years old. He bought the Tower from Jane Knapp in 2002.dvt sign interior old


'History of the Tower' have 7 comments

  1. May 13, 2017 @ 4:59 pm Tom

    I began visiting the Tower in the late 1960’s when me and my dad would drive from Lemon Grove to Imperial County to collect agate and petrified palm. My sis Kris knew the Schultz family.


    • May 13, 2017 @ 5:16 pm Tower Admin

      Hi Tom!


      • May 13, 2017 @ 5:38 pm Tom

        I love you, man. Good times. And a good time to be alive except for the crazy shit going on. Oh, well. It feeds the 24 hour News Beasts!


      • May 13, 2017 @ 5:44 pm Tom

        Ben showed me the power pole on the property,said it was the end of the line for SDG&E. Is that a metaphor? Ha ha.


  2. May 6, 2017 @ 6:03 am Alaskan Princess

    It was always a special treat, when traveling between Yuma and San Diego, when we had time to stop at The Tower and Boulder Park. It was great fun going up in the tower and exploring the treasures in the museum. The clearer the day the better – to ‘observe’! Of course, I enjoyed climbing and exploring the rocks with my son. I know we took pictures on more than one occasion but I have a sinking feeling they were lost in house fire. I’m thrilled that Ben Schultz has purchased this and wish others the same opportunity at making memories! And how awesome that Wisteria Candy Cottage is also still hand-dipping chocolates in Boulevard!


  3. April 11, 2017 @ 10:35 pm Richard Hamilton

    I so enjoyed this site and reading of the History of the tower. Sixty years ago I stopped with my famity on vacation. I was 8 years old. I will always treasure those memories. There was a pair of captured German submarine binoculars at the top of the tower and with those binoculars it seemed like you could see all the way to Heaven. God Bless America and it’s beauty!


    • April 11, 2017 @ 10:39 pm Tower Admin

      Thank you so much for sharing this memory! The Schultz Family, too, visited the Tower years and years before Ben Schultz finally bought it. It is a magic place!


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