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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cabazon's Dinosaurs: Roadside Kitsch

Above, "Mr. Rex". Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While on my way home from Joshua Tree National Park today, I stopped off at Cabazon's dinosaurs to photograph them.

Back in the 1960s, my grandmother retired to 29 Palms and we would pass the dinosaurs on Interstate 10 while en route to visit her. Each time we passed them, we noted the progression of their construction. The first dinosaur built was the big Brontosaurus and then the Tyrannosaurus rex was built later.

Above, "Dinny". Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The dinosaurs were featured in Pee Wee's Big Adventure around the "Large Marge" segment of the movie ("Tell 'em Large Marge sent ya!").

According to Wikipedia:
The creation of the Cabazon dinosaurs began in the 1960s by Knott's Berry Farm sculptor and portrait artist Claude K. Bell (1897–1988) to attract customers to his Wheel Inn Restaurant, which opened in 1958 and has been closed for a long time. Dinny, the first of the Cabazon dinosaurs, was started in 1964 and created over a span of eleven years. Bell created Dinny out of spare material salvaged from the construction of nearby Interstate 10 at a cost of $300,000. The biomorphic building that was to become Dinny was first erected as steel framework over which an expanded metal grid was formed in the shape of a dinosaur. All of it was then covered with coats of shotcrete (spray concrete). Bell was quoted in 1970 as saying the 45-foot (14 m) high, 150-foot (46 m) long Dinny was "the first dinosaur in history, so far as I know, to be used as a building." His original vision for Dinny was for the dinosaur's eyes to glow and mouth to spit fire at night, predicting, "It'll scare the dickens out of a lot of people driving up over the pass." These two features, however, were not added. With the help of ironworker Gerald Hufstetler, Bell worked on the project independently; no construction companies or contractors were involved in the fabrication. The task of painting Dinny was completed by a friend of Bell's in exchange for one dollar and a case of Dr Pepper. 
A second dinosaur, Mr. Rex, was constructed near Dinny in 1981. Originally, a giant slide was installed in Rex's tail; it was later filled in with concrete making the slide unusable. 
The Wheel Inn Restaurant is still closed and the area surrounding the dinosaurs looked run down during today's visit. But despite this, it appears that the dinosaur attraction is still open for business.

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