Couple Turns Desert Acreage Into Waterfront

Times Staff Writer

Picture this: A Rolls-Royce, a Lincoln limousine and a lake with wild ducks and Canadian geese--all in the Mojave Desert, halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

It's no mirage. It's home for A. F. (Gus) and Loreen Raigosa.

And the Raigosas want to make the 90-acre property, about 20 miles east of Barstow, home for 34 other families as well.

"We just want some nice people to share it with us," said Gus, who plans to retire there.

Gus will be 65 in April, but he has had a link to the area since he was a young man.

Natives of Los Angeles

"We came out here about 30 years ago because land was cheap," he explained. He and Loreen are both natives of Los Angeles.

"My wife and I had just gotten married, and I had no money because I had just gone through divorce, but we had a rickety Chevy that we drove to the desert after reading a newspaper advertising acreage for $20 down and $20 a month." The price per acre was $25, Loreen added.

The property was in Newberry Springs--"in the middle of nowhere," Gus said, "but we liked the view, so we bought 40 acres."

They put an old aircraft-engine box, covered with a blanket, on the property. "And that was our weekend motel," he remarked.

They commuted there from their apartment in Downey. "We both worked for Douglas Aircraft though I eventually got my real estate license and sold desert land," he said.

Called 'Crazy Gus' Weekdays at Douglas, he was a plumber, and she was a secretary. Week nights, he sold jewelry for a friend. "Then we'd invite people out to the desert on weekends," he said. One day, he said to Loreen, "You know, we could probably get more people to come out if we had a lake."

A lake in the desert? Locals called him "Crazy Gus," but Loreen didn't laugh. A few farms nearby had reservoirs. The area has an aquifer. So, he reasoned, why not build a lake?

The Raigosas paid one fellow $3.50 an hour to scoop out the sand for a seven-acre lake. For no money down and five years to pay, they got another man to drill a well. Then Gus got the Southern California Edison Co. in Barstow to run power poles and lines to the site.

On Jan. 1, 1960, they turned on the pump to allow water to fill "Lake Loreen," which they later expanded into a 45-acre lake and operated as a campground and restaurant site with luaus until they sold it and went to the Bahamas in 1972.

"The Bahamas sounded romantic," Gus remembered, "and we were tired of the desert." They were probably just plain tired. Between commuting, working at Douglas, running the Blue Lagoon Restaurant at Lake Loreen and selling nearby lots on tiny lakes that Gus built after Lake Loreen, they hadn't taken a vacation in years.

So they went to the Bahamas and started a real estate development that Gus said "didn't work out," returned to Newberry Springs to build Lake Jodie, a 160-acre subdivision and lake that he said he "sold out," and then traveled back and forth to Mexico, where Gus was in the shrimp business and other ventures until about 1 1/2 years ago.

"Then, last March, I bought Lake Wainani back again," he said.

Lake Wainani, which he claims means "beautiful waters" in Polynesian, is another 45-acre lake in Newberry Springs that he built about 15 years ago.

"I bought the land from a Chinese group that owns 160 acres and about 16,000 fruit trees next door," he said. "The group also owns other orchards, hotels and supermarkets."

After buying the land and building the lake, he set up a partnership to develop lots, but then sold his interest before going to the Bahamas, he explained.

After that, not much was done with the property. "It takes a lot of time to get government approvals for such a project," he said.

And Lake Wainani became like some of the small lakes developed in the area by other builders after Lake Loreen. As Ina Petokas, an associate planner with the San Bernardino County Office of Planning, explained it: "Many lakes were approved and never developed, and some were built but never filled with water."

After the Raigosas bought back Lake Wainani, they sold 17 2 1/2-acre parcels "immediately," Gus said, but then they had to get the state Department of Real Estate's go-ahead to sell under their name through their Basic Empire Corp. "So the remaining parcels were off the market until a few weeks ago," he said.

The remaining 17 2 1/2-acre sites are priced at $48,500 each, with $5,000 down and 12 1/2% interest amortized over 20 years. There is also a partially furnished three-bedroom, two-bath model (recreational vehicle) and parcel with landscaping and private dock at $89,000. (A free brochure is available from Basic Empire Corp. at Lake Wainani, 48141 Valley Center Road, Newberry Springs 92365.)

All the parcels are on the lake, which may be one of the last to be built in the area.

One of the proposals in a community plan to be considered by the county Board of Supervisors on Jan. 21 would restrict future lakes "because they create a lot of evaporation on the surface," Petokas said, and with the influx of large-scale alfalfa growing (some fields are as large as 160 acres) within the past few years has come a concern in the area that the water table is falling.

Underground basins However, this shouldn't affect Lake Wainani, she said, as it was reviewed for site approval before it was developed.

"There have been underground basins along the river in the area for many years, so the water has been there for large lakes if people could afford to pump it," she said.

Some lake operators cut these costs by reducing the level of their water in the wintertime when temperatures can get down to freezing, she continued, "but in a development like Lake Wainani, the homeowners would pay to keep it full." (The monthly homeowners fee is $70.

"And that includes island and lake maintenance and all the water they want," Gus said. There are two wells on the property: two for the lake and two for domestic use. "We have our own water company," Loreen added.)

Stocked With Fish Lake Wainani is about 8 feet deep--"deep enough for water-skiing and fishing," Gus said. The lake is stocked with bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie and trout. Despite temperatures that sometimes reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit, the shore is landscaped with full-grown trees and bushes.

The lake is between Interstate 15 and Interstate 40, beside a transportation corridor used by the Indians, explorers and early pioneers as well as the ever-growing number of tourists to and from Las Vegas and the Colorado River. In Barstow, the number of motel rooms is expected to double from 800 to 1,600 during the first six months of this year.

Even tiny Newberry Springs has been expanding. Though it only has a population of about 1,600, it has grown about 14% during the past three years, according to its postmaster, Virginia Coppi, who has lived in the area for 34 years.

Yet, Lake Wainani is so private and quiet, the unknowing would never guess it or the Raigosas' limo and Rolls-Royce are there.

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