Pacific Palisades News
Secret Nazi Compound Located In Rustic Canyon
By Victoria Pombeiro
Apr 1, 2012 - 12:00:55 PM
PACIFIC PALISADES—A favorite hiking trail in Rustic Canyon was once a secretive camp inhabited by Nazi sympathizers.
Murphy Ranch, now little more than a set of abandoned ruins covered in graffiti, was once a heavily guarded bunker inhabited by a community of Nazi sympathizers.
The gates to the ranch
Although it sounds like the plot of a bad Hollywood film, fascist supporters hoped that the compound would play an important role in the reconstruction of America after Germany won World War II.
Purchased by mining heiress Jessie Murphy from screen cowboy Will Rogers in 1933, the 55-acre ranch has a long and sordid history, much of which is shrouded in mystery.
According to local historians, Murphy’s daughter Winona and her husband Norman fell prey to a Nazi sympathizer named Herr Schmidt. Schmidt convinced them that he had supernatural powers and that America would soon fall to the Third Reich and be rebuilt under German rule.
He persuaded the couple to invest $4 million in the ranch, which at its peak was equipped with a diesel power plant, a 375,000 gallon concrete water tank, giant meat locker, and bomb shelter.
The compound, which was reached by descending a set of extremely steep concrete steps, even boasted wrought iron gates designed by renowned African-American architect Paul Revere Williams.
Williams’ architectural sketches also included plans to build a four-storey mansion with 22 bedrooms, five libraries, and multiple dining rooms.
However, the plans were never completed. Instead, FBI agents raided the camp in 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Dozens of Nazi sympathizers were rounded up, and Schmidt was arrested for transmitting short-wave radio messages to the Germans.
The ranch's crumbling buildings are covered in graffiti.
The site became an artists’ commune after the war, but was supposedly turned over to the city of Los Angeles in the late 1960s and has since fallen into a state of disrepair. A brush fire in 1978 burned many of the buildings to the ground, and those that remain are covered in graffiti.
Local historian Randy Young, whose mother Betty Lou Young wrote about Murphy Ranch in her book, Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea, said that the ranch is an important part of local history.
“I think it is a wonderful example of how this cult ”“ because the Nazis in California were a cult ”“ completely failed,” he said.
“They were terribly unsuccessful, they had very few followers, and they built all this infrastructure but never quite got around to completing it.
“The Nazis in California were really quite pitiful, but it is a monument that is worth remembering. I think we need pitiful memorials to a failed idea.
The area surrounding Murphy Ranch is a popular choice of residence for many celebrities, including Schindler’s List director Steven Spielberg.
“It is ironic that you can see Steven Spielberg’s house from the property given that he made millions creating films about Nazis and Jews,” said Mr. Young.
Mr. Young added that the site is currently owned by the city of Los Angeles, which is trying to secure the funding needed to clean it up before turning it over to the state.
“It is really quite dangerous at the moment,” he said.
“But it’s a big job to clean it up. There are toxic issues”¦ oil byproducts and such. The concrete walls are several feet thick ”“ you’d need dynamite just to put a dent in them. And the water tank is huge.
“They need to put fences around it and iron doors on the power stations to keep people out.”
LA Recreation and Parks spokesman Cid Macaraeg confirmed that Murphy Ranch is part of Rustic Canyon Park and therefore overseen by the department. However, he was unable to provide any information about plans to demolish or remove structures on the compound.
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