Once a source of civic pride for the small town of Baker and an icon alongside Interstate 15, the World’s Tallest Thermometer has fallen into disrepair, and vandals have stripped much of the copper wiring from its base. The thermometer’s decay has also meant fewer motorists stopping to snap pictures in Baker. Now the privately owned landmark is up for sale—but it remains to be seen whether some White Knight of the Mojave will ride to the rescue. (And whether he’ll be wielding a wrecking ball.)
Willis Herron, owner of Baker’s once-renowned Bun Boy restaurant, built the 134-foot-high thermometer for $700,000 in 1991. (The height was in honor of the 134-degree record temperature set in nearby Death Valley on July 10, 1913.) Soon after its construction, 70-mph winds snapped the thermometer in half, and severe gusts two years later made the thermometer sway so much that light bulbs popped out. Concrete was then poured inside the steel core to reinforce the monument.
Herron later sold the thermometer, along with Bun Boy, to Larry Dabour, the owner of Baker’s Mad Greek restaurant. In 2005, Dabour sold both to Matt Pike, who had denounced the thermometer when Willis was planning it in 1991. “This is a selfish business ploy,” Pike told the San Bernardino Planning commission at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe we should apply to build a 150-foot statue of a sun god.” (Pike owned a Denny’s that competed with Bun Boy.)
In 2012, Pike turned off the World’s Tallest Thermometer, saying it cost $8,000 a month to keep lit. He is now asking $1.75 million for the thermometer, the vacant gift shop at its base and the 4-acre parcel on which they sit. The decaying monument may be the least of Pike’s problems: He turned the former Bun Boy into Bob’s Big Boy in 2005, but was ordered by a federal judge in November to pay more than $40,000 in damages and fees for failing to pay the franchise fees associated with the restaurant, which closed in May.