Land Disposition
The Dream of Land Ownership, and the Reality of the Beryl Townsite

Land Monopoly is not only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest monopolies; it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly. 
-Winston Churchill

The best investment on Earth is earth! 
-Louis Glickman, business executive

It is a comfortable feeling to know that you stand on your own ground. Land is about the only thing that can't fly away. 
-Anthony Trollope

[Quotes from the Land Disposition Company's auction catalog]

EVERY FEW MONTHS, THE LAND Disposition Company holds a public auction, where it is possible to drive home as a land owner for as little as a few hundred dollars. The fantasy of land ownership it seems, is still attainable to almost anybody, though the reality of land ownership may come as a surprise.

The majority of property being sold are small lots on subdivided sections of desert, often without any services such as water or power. Some properties might be surrounded by other lots, and thus not even have any public access to them. The buyer also inherits any legal or title problems, not to mention hazardous materials, that may be associated with the land.

One of the more passable roads dividing the blocks within the Beryl Townsite subdivision.

 CLUI photo

Bidders are encouraged to check out the land before buying, including going to the site and researching the title. It is unclear how many people actually do.

Usually held in the function room of a Marriot-type hotel, on the fringe of a California city, like Irvine or Cerritos, the auctions take all day, and over 200 properties are sold. There is a peculiar tension in the air during the frenetic bidding, as tuxedo clad auction spotters point and yell like football coaches, running up and down the carpet between the rows of chairs. Excited and slightly confused bidders seem to be taking a plunge into the unknown.

While there may be some incredible deals at the auction, most property goes for a couple of thousand dollars or more. Many of the properties being sold have loan terms, and the amount being bid is for the amount of the down payment, and the successful bidder must then take over the fixed monthly payments for the coming years.

Commonly, the properties are in the deserts surrounding Los Angeles, on the fringes of semi-developed places like California City, Adelanto, or Ridgecrest. The least expensive properties are undeveloped western subdivisions such as Deming Ranchettes, in southern New Mexico, and Burns Junction, in southeastern Oregon.

And what sort of land can you buy for a few hundred dollars? We dispatched a researcher to one of the areas with house lots that sold at several Land Disposition auctions for less than $500, a place known as the Beryl Townsite, Utah.

Beryl turned out to be a rail siding in a wide, open plain in south western Utah, 15 miles from the nearest paved road. The next town down the rail line is Lund, which is mostly abandoned, and the road between them is barely passable after a rain. North of Beryl (pronounced "burl") begins some of the emptiest part of Utah, extending through the Wah Wah Mountains and then the Sevier Desert.
The Beryl townsite has three or four buildings: one is a tiny residence which once was a post office. Another is a railroad box car, converted into a storage container, and a third is a crumbling shed. The grid of the subdivision is contained within the usual square mile section, no doubt former railroad property. The roads that divide the blocks are discernible in some cases, but currently passable in none, to anything less than a four wheel drive. The best way to get around is to walk, though even that is difficult at times, as the ground is lumpy and soft like soda cake, and muddy in low places. The terrain is flat-ish, with mounds covered in scrub.

Like most subdivisions, the streets in the grid all have names, on the map at least, and at one point the names seem to have been painted on four inch square posts located at some intersections, but only the faintest remnants of paint remain.

Double-murder-suicide house next to the Beryl Townsite.

 CLUI photo

Just over the train tracks and down the road outside of the townsite grid, are a few more buildings, including an incongruous suburban looking house, not quite finished, but by the looks of it, recently abandoned. In fact, this was the house where three weeks earlier, the occupants, a family of three, were killed in a double murder followed by a suicide. Shreds of police line caution tape, blowing in the wind, surrounds the property.