Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - restaurants; built works - recreation areas and structures

Designers: Dorman, Richard L., and Associates, Architects (firm); Richard L. Dorman (architect)

Dates: constructed 1961-1962, demolished 2000

1 story, total floor area: 12,000 sq. ft.

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Yacht Club Drive
Salton City, CA 92275

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This Richard Dorman-designed Yacht Club Restaurant (and neighboring motel) became, at its opening in 1962, the crown jewel of the Salton City development. real estate developer, M. Penn Phillips (1887-1979), and his wife, Helen (d. 1994), called on Palm Springs architect Albert Frey (1903-1998) to layout his new town of Salton City in the late 1950s. Phillips had the backing of a real estate development arm of the Holly Sugar Company to create the "Salton Sea Riviera," a resort community with restaurants, marinas and other tourist businesses. The Phillips' development vision was tied directly to the health and stability of the Salton Sea.

The Imperial Irrigation District (IIG) described this saline body located over 100 feet below sea level: "The Salton Sea is located in the southern Colorado Desert in an area known as the Salton Sink or Salton Trough. The trough is below sea level. The Salton Trough was once an extension of the Gulf of California and over millions of years the Colorado River deposited large amounts of silt into the area filling much of the current trough and forming a large river delta to the south of the present Salton Sea. In more recent geologic history, the Colorado River had a history of inundating the area during river flood events. These events resulted in periodic flooding of the basin and at times the Colorado River flowed into the valley and then back out the southern end of the trough to the ocean. The existing lake was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River breached an irrigation inlet and flowed unchecked into the area. In the spring of 1907 the channel breach was finally closed leaving an approximately 316,000 acre lake that had a water elevation of approximately 197 feet below mean sea level. With the high evaporation rates in the area the lake shrank to approximately 165,000 acres by 1920 with an elevation of approximately 250 feet below mean sea level. As agricultural production increased in the Imperial and Coachella valleys the lake elevation rose to around 230 feet below mean sea level." (See Imperial Irrigation District, "Salton Sea," accessed 05/04/2017.) Periodic floods of the Colorado River inundated the low-lying area for millenia, but the addition of irrigation canals and the use of river water by farmers altered this natural cycle. Increased farming meant increasing inflow into the lake; the use of fertilizers and pesticides also affected lake water quality, contributing to periodic algae blooms and subsequent fish and waterfowl die-offs.

Agricultural inflows into the Salton Sea resulted in rising waters during the 1970s that overwhelmed the resort that its developers had worked so hard to build.

Building History

Los Angeles architectural firm Richard Dorman and Associates designed the Salton Bay Yacht Club in c. 1960, with construction occurring in 1961. The building had a round wood-frame structure supporting wood laminated beams carrying a modular, folded-plate roof. It had the exuberant, sculptural appeal of 1950s Googie architecture, chronicled so ably by architect and critic, Alan Hess. At this time, from about 1955-1970, imaginative and highly sculptural roof forms abounded in US architecture, suggesting the prosperity of the country and the experimentation that such wealth engendered in architects and engineers.

The Salton Bay Yacht Club closed when lake levels began to rise significantly in the 1970s. As the Imperial Irrigation District has stated, farming runoff water began to fill the lake in rapidly, threatening lakefront development in Salton City: "In the 1980s and 1990s inflows to the lake were approximately 1.2 to 1.3 million acre-feet per year, with the majority of the flow from agricultural return flows augmented with inflows from Mexico and other sources." (See Imperial Irrigation District, "Salton Sea," accessed 05/04/2017.) The yacht club building remained vacant as lake levels continued to rise in the early 1980s and then fall after the Imperial Irrigation District took efforts to curtail the flow of canal water into the lake. Photos taken c. 2016 by Google Maps show the amount of shoreline recession that had occurred from the 1980s to that time.

Building Notes

The undulating, folding plate roof must have seemed like a mirage in the desert atmosphere. The restaurant's roof spread like an umbrella, protecting the glass walls and the interior from heat while admitting magnificent views of the water. To improve views, a spiral stair led up to a crow's nest observation area, at the peak of the roof, that also doubled as a lounge.


The building was razed, probably for safety and liability reasons, in 2000.

PCAD id: 21199