The entrance to the abandoned Lake Dolores Waterpark.
The Lake Dolores Waterpark in California’s Mojave Desert has been abandoned three times since it first opened to the public in 1962.
A private firm recently secured the rights to revive the derelict site.
The full project could take six years to complete, but the water park could be finished in 2023.
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Like many abandoned properties, the Lake Dolores Waterpark has offered plenty of fodder for ghost stories. It has weathered its fair share of disasters — including an employee accident, bankruptcy, and arson.
After several attempts to revive the 1950s relic, the park officially shuttered in 2004. In the years that followed, it became a rummage yard for metal scraps, a canvas for graffiti artists, and an obstacle course for thrill-seeking skateboarders.
Lately, it has offered a psychedelic backdrop for Instagram photos. People frequently ignore “no trespassing signs” to pose in front of a dried-out pool or decaying water slide.
But the water park could spring to life again soon.
A private firm, G&GF Enterprise, received approval from San Bernardino County in March to revitalize the land. The owners hope to transform the park into a roadside playground in California’s Mojave Desert.
“Our entire development is going to be for the comfort and entertainment and recreation of traveling people so that they can take a break and they can have fun,” Om Garg, the company’s manager, told Business Insider. The pandemic isn’t slowing down the plans, he added.
Take a look at the park’s current derelict state.
A local businessman, Bob Byers, designed the site as a private playground for his extended family in the late 1950s.
The water park officially opened to the public in 1962. Byers named it after his wife, Dolores. It featured a lazy river, zip line, bumper boats, and steel water slides that fed into a man-made lake.
But by the end of the 1980s, the park shut down after struggling to compete with more modern attractions.
The site reopened to the public as Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark in 1998.
A 1950s theme hearkened back to the decade the park was built: Advertisements featured vintage cars, rock-and-roll music played across the park, and one water slide was named “Greased Lighting.” But the project failed: The park sank into debt and eventually went bankrupt in 2000.
To make matters worse, one of the park’s employees, James Mason, was involved in a dramatic accident there in May 1999. Mason incurred a paralyzing injury after crashing into a dam at the base of the “Doo Wop Super Drop” water slide.
The park reopened under a third name, Discovery Waterpark, in 2002. But it was still haunted by the legacy of Mason’s accident.
Mason was awarded $4.4 million in damages in 2004. The park closed that year after failing to attract large crowds.
In the years that followed, the abandoned site became a setting for skateboard stunts — including a Mini Cooper commercial with Tony Hawk.
G&GF Enterprise purchased the site for $2 million in 2013, but zoning issues delayed its redevelopment plans for several years.
“In the beginning, when we acquired the property, we thought that we would be able to revive the park the way it was operating from 1998 to 2004,” Garg said. “We found the zoning has changed and the old conditional use permit was not valid anymore.”
While the company waited for county approval to rezone the site, the old arcade and Lazy River Cafe was destroyed by arson in 2018.
The new project will be rolled out in five phases, starting with a lake that could be ready by next summer.
Garg said the goal is to encourage overnight visits, like school camping trips or company retreats.
Construction on the second phase, an RV park, is expected to begin in 2021 and potentially finish by the end of next year.
Construction on the water park itself won’t start until 2022. It’s expected to take six to eight months.
The water park could be ready by summer 2023. It’s slated to be called Dolores Lake Park.
A previous builder, White Water West, will oversee the construction, Garg said. Around 90% of the old infrastructure is still salvageable, he added, so the new rides will be retrofitted based on the existing layout.
Garg said one reason previous attempts to reopen the park failed was that it only operated seasonally. He plans to keep the new park open year-round.
The fourth phase of the plan would add nearly 90,000 square feet of office and administrative space, including a library and amphitheater. Garg said he also plans to transform an old parking lot into a solar grid to generate electricity for the site.
That phase could start in 2023 and finish in 2024.
A planned commercial center —including hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and a shopping area — aims to attract passersby on their way from Southern California to Las Vegas.
The fifth phase would add nearly 46,000 square feet of commercial and retail space off Interstate Highway 15. Construction on that phase could begin in 2025 and finish in 2026.
If all goes according to plan, the site could be a nostalgic ode to an attraction that many people thought was gone forever.
“I understand it was an oasis in the desert and a heaven on Earth,” Garg said. “Our goal is to make it even better.”
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