Thinking outside the box: Phonehenge West

There’s very little individuality left, and there’s not a lot of space for people who are different, no matter what the different feature is.

Kim Fahey has been building an extension to his house, on a 1.7 acre property in the Mojave Desert, for the last 30 years. He was placed on “five years’ probation on Friday and ordered to serve 63 days community service, five of them at the county morgue,” according to this article in the Seattle PI. The reason for the bizarre punishment (a morgue?) is Fahey’s refusal to stop building the house of his dreams, which violates Los Angeles County construction codes. Here’s the central portion of the sprawling 13 structure compound in summer and winter.


LA County have since torn it all down in a callous display of petty, vindictive, bureaucratic vandalism. Phonehenge West, so named because of Fahey’s previous occupation as a phone company technician, was a masterpiece of folk art as well as a unique family home. It was built almost entirely of scrap materials, including a lot of really sturdy telegraph poles, and even old movie sets. He had a lot of support from his neighbours and a group called Save Phonehenge West, whose website has pictures of Fahey, his family, and some of the other structures.

To no avail. I think this is another lost battle in the war to save individuality and creativity from the numbing grip of corporate conformism. It’s all the more distressing because we have traditionally expected better from a country where rugged individualism was once seen as a defining virtue. There are similarities with the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, where the county was determined to destroy the work of another iconoclast, Simon Rodia. In that case, cranes were unable to shift the structure, and it survives today.

Which begs the question – perhaps LA County was right in Fahey’s case, since they were able to tear it down? Was it dangerous as a residence? The attempt cost $83,488 so that suggests something fairly robust. A scientific test might have found it met or exceeded the construction code requirements. I don’t doubt that Fahey is a stubborn man who refused to endear himself to officialdom, and that might have been part of the problem. But it shouldn’t be – they should have dealt fairly with him (i.e. tested the structures properly) regardless of his attitude.

Here’s a photogallery from the LA Times, and a documentary about Phonehenge West and Kim Fahey.

It’s heartbreaking to think that glorious building was torn down, while we’re forced to live in little boxes. Or even become boxes ourselves, hence the cliche – “Think outside the box.” Not to be taken seriously, of course – governments find that sort of thing troubling.

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