December 27, 2006

Renovation begins at former health spa

Chuck Mueller, Staff Writer

ZZYZX - More than three decades have passed since radio evangelist Curtis Howe Springer left this desert oasis and spa, which he called "the last word in health care."

Its cluster of buildings, which Springer opened as a resort with indoor mineral springs and a cross-shaped pool, have weathered the desert wind and heat since the Bureau of Land Management evicted him in 1974, saying he didn't have a valid claim for the property.

Deteriorated by time and the elements, the structures are now being shored up.

"We're reroofing all the historic buildings from the Springer era, and stabilizing others," said Rob Fulton, who manages the 30-year-old Desert Studies Center at the site, five miles off Interstate 15 near Baker.

The $500,000 project is being carried out by the National Park Service and the California State University system, which operates the center under a cooperative agreement.

"Buildings used for classrooms, office, and dining room are getting new roofs," Fulton said. "The Sunrise Building, which contained 10 guest rooms, is being stabilized along with the old pool and spa."

The site, known as Soda Springs before Springer opened his 12,000-acre Zzyzx mineral-springs resort, was used for hundreds of years by Indian tribes and as a stagecoach and then rail stop on the old Tonapah and Tidewater Railroad, according to the Park Service.

Learning of springs in the area, Springer decided in 1944 to open a health spa at the site, recruiting laborers from Skid Row in Los Angeles to construct the resort's buildings.

"Springer broadcast his daily religious programs from his powerful radio station," said authors Cheri Rae and John McKinney in their book, "Mojave National Preserve: A Visitor's Guide."

Widespread response to the broadcasts turned Baker into California's busiest post office. Springer stayed 30 years at Zzyzx, catering to thousands of visitors.

A lake at the site is home of the endangered Mohave tui chub fish.

In 1995, passage of the California Desert Protection Act created the Mojave National Preserve, which incorporated Zzyzx and its cluster of 12 buildings into the park.

The historic buildings have been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, the Park Service reports in its management plan for the preserve.

About 6,000 students and researchers, half of whom are from other states and foreign countries, use the Desert Studies Center annually, Fulton said.

It accommodates about 80 students or researchers at a time. They focus on subjects as diverse as archaeology and wildlife biology.

The consortium of California State University campuses running the center are in San Bernardino, Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge and Pomona.