Posted on: January 3, 2023, 02:15h.
Last updated on: January 3, 2023, 03:03h.
Spiegelworld – the Las Vegas producers of “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace and other adult-themed circus extravaganzas – has purchased the California town of Nipton.
Nipton isn’t that big, about 80 acres in total. But that meant it wasn’t that expensive, either. Speigelworld acquired it for $2.5 million in cash several months ago, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal. And that was $500K less than its 2021 asking price.
Nipton, nicknamed Magical Nipton, has railroad tracks on one side and a massive Joshua tree forest on the other. The desert town attracts railroad buffs, stargazers, and photographers – anyone looking to escape city life, if only for a day.
So what does a theater company want with its own town?
Spiegelworld intends to make Nipton the company’s global headquarters, a “circus village” where artists and performers can live, rehearse, and work. Though the details aren’t ironed out yet, this would tentatively include a large office space, an art park, and several performance spaces, including a large theater.
Nipton’s current 25 residents constitute only enough of a population to support a general store, restaurant, a small hotel named “Hotel California,” a town hall, and an old schoolhouse.
When the Circus Comes to Town – and Buys It
Spiegelworld – named for “spiegeltent,” the Belgian word for a traveling circus tent – is known for its eccentric approach to business ventures. For instance, it operates a “psychedelic Italian” restaurant called Superfrico at the Cosmopolitan. But buying Nipton isn’t as off-the-wall as it seems. Rather than being in the middle of nowhere, Nipton is located 10 miles off Interstate 15, only an hour southwest of Las Vegas and a fifth of the drive toward Los Angeles.
In the several months since it secretly acquired the town, according to the Wall Street Journal, Spiegelworld has dedicated itself to the decidedly non-creative task of governing it. This has included hearing complaints from longtime residents, cleaning up 250 tons of debris, and dealing with septic-tank problems. Most of the work is being performed by two of its prop masters, Alex and Frank Strebel, who now live there full-time with their five chickens.
Nipton was founded – as Nippeno Camp, after the Nippeno Consolidated Mine company – in the early 1900s to service local miners. Once the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad was completed, the new post office changed the outpost’s name, both to avoid confusion with the California coastal town of Nipomo and to honor a railroad engineer whose first name is now lost to time.
By the 1950s, Nipton was fading fast. Its one-room schoolhouse, built in the 1930s, was closed, its children sent to school 15 miles away in Mountain Pass. Its general store and hotel were also closed.
In 1984, the town was for sale. On a whim, Jerry Freeman decided to purchase it as a surprise gift for his wife. Freeman was an LA-based geologist who opened a gold mine there in 1964 and closed it when the price of gold nosedived in the ‘80s. At the time, Nipton’s asking price was only $200K.
Freeman’s wife, Roxanne Lang, called Malibu home and wasn’t exactly thrilled with the relocation. But she made do. The couple sent their child to school in nearby Baker, Calif., where Freeman served on the school board and Lang worked part-time as a speech pathologist. For extra income, they sold California lottery tickets to nearby Nevadans and offered whole-town filming permits. “Breakdown,” a 1997 Kurt Russell thriller, was filmed there.
After Freeman died in 2016, Lang put Nipton up for sale and its $5 million purchase made national headlines the following year. American Green, a cannabis technology company, said it planned to transform Nipton into “the country’s first energy-independent, cannabis-friendly hospitality destination.” According to the company, weed was going to transform small desert communities the same way gold did 100 years earlier.
That dream went up in smoke when San Bernardino County passed a resolution banning commercial cannabis activity, including growhouses and dispensaries, in unincorporated parts of the county like Nipton.
In 2019, American Green stopped making payments on its loan. Lang foreclosed and put the town back on the block. And that’s where it stayed for three years, unwanted, not unlike a certain popular sitcom’s small town.
“Imagine it’s “Schitt’s Creek,” but owned by a circus,” Spiegelworld founder Ross Mollison told the Wall Street Journal.