Time was when my idea of a decent American film seemed to involve someone like Nicholas Cage (back when he was human) gunning a beat-up Dodge Charger into the Californian desert before having a strange dreamy pre-dawn sequence involving some hollow concrete dinosaurs in a parking lot. Sadly we don’t seem to see these kitsch sauropods in films so much anymore. But what are they and who put them there? I hit Wikipedia to find out…
The Cabazon Dinosaurs, also referred to as Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs, are enormous, sculptured roadside attractions located in Cabazon, California, and visible to the immediate north of Interstate 10. The site features Dinny the Dinosaur (pronounced “Dine-ee”), a 150-ton building shaped like a larger-than-life-sized Apatosaurus, and Mr. Rex, a 100-ton Tyrannosaurus rex structure.
The creation of the Cabazon dinosaurs began in the 1960s, by sculptor and portrait artist Claude K. Bell to attract customers to his Wheel Inn Cafe, which opened in 1958. 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 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. A third woolly mammoth sculpture and a prehistoric garden were drafted, but never completed due to Bell’s death in 1988.
Following the sale of the property by Bell’s surviving family in the mid-1990s, The new owners obtained approval for a major expansion of the Cabazon dinosaur site in 1996 with the land-use approvals including restaurants, a museum, and gift shop, and a 60-room motel at the Main Street exit in Cabazon. Currently located inside Dinny is a gift store and museum promoting (somewhat bizarrely) creationism with some of the toy dinosaurs in the shop sold under the label “Don’t swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution.” The current ownership has expressed a Young Earth creationist belief that most dinosaurs were created on Earth about 6,000 years ago – the same day as Adam and Eve. In stark contrast to that belief are Bell’s painted frescoes and sculptures inside Dinny, depicting a naturalist and evolutionary viewpoint. Bell’s paintings include representations of Cro-Magnon man (labeled “Cro-Magnon Man 30,000 [years ago]”) and Java Man (labeled “Java Man 400,000”). Bell’s historic displays now exist alongside information detailing the creationist viewpoint of the earth and man’s origins.
Pastor Robert Chiles, assisting in turning the exhibit into a non-denominational church, has been quoted as to his belief of why children are drawn to the dinosaur attraction, “There’s something in their DNA that knows man walked with these creatures on Earth.” Chiles and Kanter plan to promote their views of creationism at the attraction based on their interpretation of the Book of Genesis.
Appearances in popular culture:
The dinosaurs are seen in the background of a scene in the 1984 film Paris, Texas.
The popular 1985 comedy film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure filmed several scenes around the dinosaurs. According to director Tim Burton in the film’s DVD commentary, many people thought the dinosaurs were built for the movie and did not realize they were part of a real roadside attraction.
The dinosaurs and the Wheel Inn diner made a brief appearance in the 1985 music video for the Tears For Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”