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Jurassic Parking Lot

Big Plans For The Disappearing Dinos Of Cabazon

October 29, 2000|DARCY RICE

Two years ago, after a long career as the most visible man-made structures along an isolated stretch of the I-10 freeway near Palm Springs, Claude Bell's two massive concrete dinosaurs began fading into the increasingly commercial desertscape. A 1998 item in this magazine lamented the placement of a two-story Burger King between the dinos and passing motorists, triggering reader letters that described the restaurant as a "corporate blemish" and Bell's dinos as a "severely compromised . . . masterpiece."

Overlooked in all that hand-wringing, though, was the Law of Unintended Consequences.

According to Kenneth Garland, who owns Dinosaur Delights, the gift shop in the belly of Dinney, the 150-foot-long brontosaurus, the Burger King, a nearby Denny's restaurant and a Texaco gas station are luring visitors off the freeway in a way that the dinos and nearby Wheel Inn restaurant never did. The result is that more people than ever are getting an up-close-and-personal view of Dinney and Rex, Dinney's 65-foot-tall tyrannosaurus companion.

The dinos are so hot that Gary Kanter of MKA Partners, the group that owns the 60 acres surrounding the dinosaurs, says the partnership is reevaluating possibilities for the site. The growth of the Cabazon area, including the expansion of the nearby Casino Morongo and Desert Hills Factory Stores, has made MKA consider "a more aggressive strategy."

Kanter says MKA Partners is considering development that could include additional restaurants, a hotel and even more dinos--a possibility that would fulfill Bell's dream of a "dinosaur garden" at the site. The retired Knott's Berry Farm artist built the pair on his own, but died before he could complete his life's work.

If plans move forward, Kanter says MKA intends to "take advantage of modern technology. I'm not going to carry the concrete up on my back, one bag at a time, the way Claude Bell did."

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