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Murphy Ranch: the faded dreams of a Nazi Shangri La, just outside of Hollywood
March 19, 2012 1:40 PM   Subscribe

About 2 miles into the park... things start to get strange. A forbidding padlocked wrought-iron gate, surrounded by a low lying stone wall sits nestled on the edge of the trail.... Strange rusted debris starts to appear on the side of the paths. What looks like an old water filtration system, broken pieces of farm equipment, half buried sinks, strange concrete slabs with graffiti . A lovely little steam appears and makes delightful background noises, lizards and birds scatter about your feet. And then you see it. A burned-out overgrown concrete building completely covered with graffiti. Cartoon of Hitler? Check. Declaration of undying teenage love? Check.... The bunker of the building is exposed and filled with trash; a metal cage sits menacingly in the corner, and outside a series of stone steps wind up to what seems to have once been a sustenance garden. The steps then continue all the way to the top of the canyon (3,000 steps in all) and ghosts of America Nazis patrolling the wilds fill your head. Baby, we aren't at the Grove anymore... We are at the Los Angeles Nazi Compound! Well, it's actually the ruins of a small community built by Nazi sympathizers, in the hills outside of greater Los Angeles.

With such bold titles as HOW HITLER PLANNED TO TAKE OVER HOLLYWOOD (it's from The Express, so take with a hefty dash of salt), the idea of a "Nazi Utopia" tucked away in the hills of Hollywood, between celebrity mansions and olive trees, sounds exciting, but the reality behind the ruins are hard to track down. According to historians from the area, the stories are a mix of history and folklore. The Murphy Ranch is named for a possibly fictitious individual, a window “Jesse M. Murphy,” whose name is associated with the 1933 purchase of the 50-acre ranch. Recent research found that there was a Murphy family that was tied to this ranch. The Murphys were a family from Pasadena, who had made a fortune in the thumbtack business. Their daughter was Winona Stephens, and she and her husband, Norman, were apparently working with a mysterious but persuasive German named Herr Schmidt to build sufficient infrastructure to support a small town. The couple hired prolific African-American architect Paul Williams (wiki) and Welton Beckett to design their compound, and stories from the era tell of Silver Shirts patrolling the grounds.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, federal agents apparently stormed the complex, arresting Schmidt and finding a powerful shortwave radio, for sending messages to Germany. The Stephenses continued to live on the ranch, until they sold in 1948 to Huntington Hartford, who turned the ranch and another 100 acres into an artists' colony in the 1950s and 60s. This complex includes a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which survived the 1978 Mandeville Canyon Fire that destroyed "all burnable structures" in the area. In 1973, the city of Los Angeles purchased the property, and it is currently in possession of the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, who wish to turn it over to the State to become part of Topanga State Park, but the State will only take it on once the derelict buildings are demolished, a cost which LA cannot afford. Until then, the ruins will rust and rot away, made vivid by graffiti.

If you'd like to visit the site, Ventura County Trails has detailed hiking guides to the trails near Murphy Ranch, but nothing about the ranch itself. There are two ways to get to the ranch ruins: from Will Rogers State Park, or Capri Drive, a residential road.

If you can't make it in person, you can visit online, by way of galleries and groups on Flickr:
* Santa Monica Mountains: Murphy Ranch
* Rustic Canyon/Abandoned Nazi
* Rustic Canyon group
posted by filthy light thief (50 comments total) 92 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've gone mountain biking here before, but never got this kind of detailed information. Thanks, filthy light thief!
posted by RakDaddy at 1:45 PM on March 19, 2012


Well, this sure is going to steal the remains of the day from me, you Filthy Light Thief!
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:51 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. You hit all the right notes.
Thanks for another solid post.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:52 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Murphys were a family from Pasadena, who had made a fortune in the thumbtack business.

Big Thumbtack's shadowy connection to ultra-rightist causes in the inter-war period is one of the great untold stories of American capitalist excess.
posted by Naberius at 1:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


Thanks. Have hiked through there in the past but didn't know the whole story.
posted by gallois at 1:55 PM on March 19, 2012


This is completely satisfying to my urbex AND my wacky conspiracy cravings. Thank you, filthy light thief!
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:56 PM on March 19, 2012


Naberius, I think you put your finger on a significant sticking point there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:56 PM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


It seems appropriate to bring your Shilter toilet paper with you when hiking those trails.
posted by gman at 1:58 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate California Nazis!
posted by b1tr0t at 1:58 PM on March 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Naberius: Big Thumbtack's shadowy connection to ultra-rightist causes in the inter-war period is one of the great untold stories of American capitalist excess.

That link was a late addition, one I found as I was about to hit [post]. Except for that link, sites either credit Jessie Murphy as a mining fortune heiress, or a fake name for the Stephenses. Add this to the tally in favor of truth being weirder than fiction.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:59 PM on March 19, 2012


Big Thumbtack's shadowy connection to ultra-rightist causes in the inter-war period is one of the great untold stories of American capitalist excess.

Yeah, I remember that one-off printing of Protocols of the Elders of Fun-Tak.
posted by griphus at 1:59 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


White supremacists are always their own best counter-argument, and the Silver Shirts seem to have been no exception. I like that they basically dressed as Laverne from "Laverne and Shirley."
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2012


I read about this earlier today and am already making plans to visit, although I worry it might turn into something out of Hellboy.

THERE IS A GORILLA WITH A MACHINE GUN IN THE HOLLYWOOD HITLER BUNKER.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:10 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Coming from Bunny Ultramod, that just sounds like the set-up for an awesome music video.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Big Thumbtack's shadowy connection to ultra-rightist causes

Well, in retrospect it is obvious, if you've ever tried to push a thumbtack in with your left hand.

lefties can ignore me
posted by davejay at 2:28 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate ghost nazis.
posted by The Whelk at 2:29 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love ruined crap with sinister histories. I'm headed to Untermeyer Park up in Yonkers sometime soon to walk around and look for interesting stuff.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:32 PM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hate ghost nazis.

The place in my life that takes the "most likely to have been haunted" award was a concrete, underground Nazi bunker in the middle of a forest in Jutland, far (well, as "far" as one can be, in Denmark) from everything. They turned it into a mini-museum, but it had flooded with knee-deep water. Also a bunch of birds built nests in it and were flying around. They had also installed lights, which were perpetually on and probably the only electric thing for miles.
posted by griphus at 2:32 PM on March 19, 2012


I would take this conspiracy website link with an even bigger grain of salt than the Express, but it summarizes this essay that compares the Murphy Ranch to the Spahn Ranch that housed the Manson Family. The Manson Family did not seem to have the engineering skills of whoever made the Murphy ranch, but they also believed they could wait out racial Armageddon by going into underground tunnels, in addition to their shared admiration for Hitler.
posted by jonp72 at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2012


Dear griphus:

Q. Are you a ghost.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2012


...now I've got a mental image of a bunch of Ghost Jews descending on a Neo-Nazi compound like the Army of the Dead in Return of the King.
posted by griphus at 2:41 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should note the steps there are an amazing workout. All in all over 500 steps it is one of the longest stairways in the US. [Might be the longest but I have not investigated].

You can also access the area by hiking from Will Roger's State Park through a creek or up and over a steep trail and down to the creek then head through bushes and trees.

Here's a hike guide link to the region.
posted by Rashomon at 2:42 PM on March 19, 2012


Great stuff, thanks for posting!
posted by carter at 2:45 PM on March 19, 2012


Friends of mine once aspired to make a horror movie based on Murphy Ranch. They decided it was already weird enough.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:45 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


...now I've got a mental image of a bunch of Ghost Jews descending on a Neo-Nazi compound like the Army of the Dead in Return of the King.

Wow, you're a nerd. I would have preferred a far-less-nerdy Army of Darkness reference there.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:48 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a cool post! I can't get enough the odd remnants left throughout America by generations of weirdos and creeps past.

A buddy of mine wrote for a magazine out here called Weird NJ, and introduced me to a place called "The Iron Door Cave". It's basically what it sounds like - a cave with an iron door (and some ventilation shafts) installed in it. Reading this post above, especially the part about first walking up on the place, gave me a creepy feeling similar to the one I got the first time I saw The Iron Door Cave. Turns out The Iron Door Cave was a leftover from a Bund Camp of Nazi sympathizers, which is why this post reminded me of it.

So I guess scary Nazi's were leaving odd detritus all over the US for future generations to discover.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 2:49 PM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


griphus: Also a bunch of birds built nests in it and were flying around. They had also installed lights, which were perpetually on and probably the only electric thing for miles.

Birds are weird. What would they want with perpetual lighting? I guess it is an underground bunker, and birds aren't generally the most economical of animals, when it comes to utility planning.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:54 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck birds.

Furds.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I lived on Amalfi drive in the early-mid 80s. We used to hike down into the canyon almost every week. My grandfather was an avid rambler and had discovered the place during one of his visits from the U.K. to California. He researched the history and clued me and my High School buddies in...

There's been a lot of graffiti added since I last went there in around 2000, and I sure hope this place doesn't meet with a bulldozer, places like this can teach a lesson, all of the Nazi-related fear-mongering aside. The roads are nice to walk around and the buidlings offer lots to look at along the way. The folks that built it were serious though, it's a large compound and you could take an entire day to walk around and through it. Lots to see, much to discover - took me years to be able to say I knew it.

I disagree with some folk's assessment that the rusted out building was a "machine shop" as when we went there in the early part of the 80s you could still walk though it, and it appeared to me to be more of a residence; with a tiled shower area, bedrooms, and a basketball court out in front. Didn't seem to be a place where work was performed, more of a refuge.

Rustic Canyon butts up on Will Rogers State Park, so when you get tired of the Nazi ghosts you can scare them away with recollections of Cowboys and Injuns...
posted by stonesy at 2:55 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surf Nazis must die:
A second unique & incredible post of the day.
posted by growabrain at 2:55 PM on March 19, 2012


If you're ever in Berlin, do check out the tour of the old nuclear civil defense bunker just in case you haven't had any cold war nuclear nightmares lately.
posted by The Whelk at 2:56 PM on March 19, 2012




Friends of mine once aspired to make a horror movie based on Murphy Ranch. They decided it was already weird enough.


The older I get and the more I learn, the more convinced I am that the world is weird enough. Fiction has nothing on reality. This world is already too far fetched to be real.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2012


The comfort of fiction is that fiction has to make sense.
posted by The Whelk at 3:01 PM on March 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Suggested edit: The comfort of fiction is that fiction can make sense.

There is plenty of nonsensical fiction, intentional and otherwise.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:08 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The LA hills must have been a pretty nutty place in the 30's. It sounds like a set up for a Ross MacDonald novel.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:16 PM on March 19, 2012


I had a friend who lived near there, I would go to her house and we'd hike around the canyons. One day we took a different route and encountered a guy carrying a shotgun who politely but firmly insisted we did not want to hike the trail up this particular canyon. I figure it was a pot farm patrol.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:24 PM on March 19, 2012


The LA hills must have been a pretty nutty place in the 30's. It sounds like a set up for a Ross MacDonald novel.

You aren't kidding. Across town, John Parsons, a founder of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, kept himself busy designing rockets and chatting up the Whore of Babylon.
posted by notyou at 3:28 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


There was more sympathy for Nazism in the US than I think most Americans would be willing to admit. Makes you wonder how many other similar compounds exist elsewhere.
posted by tommasz at 3:54 PM on March 19, 2012


Heh. This post comes pre-Godwinned.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:36 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The LA hills must have been a pretty nutty place in the 30's.

Yeah, not anymore.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:51 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Birds are weird. What would they want with perpetual lighting?

Birds eat bugs, don't they?
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:06 PM on March 19, 2012


Big Thumbtack's shadowy connection to ultra-rightist causes in the inter-war period is one of the great untold stories of American capitalist excess.


You'll never be able to make that charge stick.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:48 PM on March 19, 2012


This is a marvelous post! I was especially delighted to discover in your dense and delightful treat, a passing reference to information about architect Paul Williams, who was an astounding twentieth century role model. Among his many accomplishments and reputation as architect to the stars, he designed St. Jude Hospital and, despite the boost to our pride and all the helpful publicity our city received from this project, I wonder just how many Memphians actually knew, in those days before civil rights were at all a reality in the Mid South, that the architect of that place of miracles was an African American man. I wonder if he ever visited Memphis and, if so, where he might have found a hotel room before 1962--Martin Luther King, Jr., six years later, famously (and fatefully) chose the Lorraine Motel.
posted by Anitanola at 7:30 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've hiked a few miles up on the ridge trail above the canyon (also accessible from Will Rogers Park), and it afforded the most breathtaking views of Los Angeles I've ever seen. On a clear day you can see the Long Beach docks to the south and the porch of LA out past downtown to the east and the very tip of Point Dume on the other end of Malibu.

Bunny Ultramod (or any of y'all) if you want some company hiking to the Murphy Ranch, drop me a line. I've been wanting to do the canyon trail since I read about it years ago in this old AskMe.
posted by carsonb at 10:15 PM on March 19, 2012


I just wish there were some pictures available from the time the Stephens were there. Or even pictures from the artist colony. You'd think there would be something. I want so badly to see what it looked like then.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 12:57 AM on March 20, 2012


As I started reading this post, I was pretty convinced that it was about some new Zork game module or something.
posted by insulglass at 4:39 AM on March 20, 2012


the Whore of Babylon

Nitpick - the preferred spelling in this context is Babalon.
posted by malocchio at 8:49 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I started reading this post, I was pretty convinced that it was a description of the intro of Silent Hill 2.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:54 AM on March 20, 2012


California
Uber Alles
Uber Alles
California.
posted by iurodivii at 10:00 AM on March 20, 2012


As someone from Ventura County, I am not surprised by the Nazi presence. Thanks for the great links.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2012


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