BAKER, Calif. - A giant thermometer built to attract motorists headed to and from Las Vegas has become an eyesore, and residents in this Southern California desert town are divided about whether to take the landmark down.

Erected in 1991 and billed as the "World's Largest Thermometer", the 134-foot-high structure equipped with nearly 5,000 light bulbs was a Mojave Desert beacon. After changing ownership a few times, the current owner has kept the thermometer dark, saying the light bill was about $8,000 a month, according to the Los Angeles Times reports (http://lat.ms/VZ2hpF).

Le Hayes, general manager of the Baker Community Services District, says its demise is an embarrassment to the town. He plans to remove a picture of it from the welcome sign on Baker's water tower.

The tower's height was selected because of the 134-degree record set in nearby Death Valley in 1913. The thermometer was the brainchild of local businessman Willis Herron, who built the giant monolith next to his Bun Boy Restaurant.

Residents are unsure about the thermometer's future.

"I would kind of hate to see it go down because every time I see it I think of Willis, and Willis was a great guy," Hayes told the newspaper. "But if this guy isn't going to maintain it, it's like anything else that's been abandoned. He needs to take it down and get rid of it."

Baker, which considers itself the gateway to Death Valley and is known to travellers for its toasty temperatures, is located between Las Vegas and Los Angeles on Interstate 15. It is a frequent stopping point for travellers making the 280-mile trek, much of it across desert.

The town has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Two of its three motels are shut and a chain link fence surrounds a Starbucks, which closed four years ago.

But Luis Ramallo, owner of Alien Fresh Jerky, one of the more popular stops on Baker's main road, believes the town can still attract tourists. He has plans to build a three-story, disc-shaped UFO hotel that would have 30-plus rooms. He believes the thermometer is no longer needed in Baker.

"I don't want them to fix the thermometer," Ramallo said. "I want them to tear it down. It's gone from good to bad to ugly."

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