I went for a hike in Rustic/Sullivan Canyon yesterday. After wandering around the ridgeline for a bit (pretty, but very hot), I went back down to the fire road and came to the gates for what the hiking website I read beforehand said was “a compound run by Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s.” Naturally, I had to take a look, because come on, NAZIS.
The compound is Murphy Ranch, purchased in 1933 by Jessie M. Smith. Except there is no Jessie M. Smith, it’s a fake name used by the real owners, Winona and Norman Stephens to cover their Nazi tracks. They poured four million dollars into the secret Nazi compound during the 1930s, creating a self-sufficient camp with its own water, power station, orchards and gardens. It housed as many as 40 Nazi sympathizers including guards that patrolled the canyon on a network of trails and concrete steps (many of the steps are still there).
The idea, apparently, was that they would camp out in the hills, holding paramilitary exercises and complaining about the jews, until the Fuhrer arrived in his march towards global aryan domination. It (spoilers!) didn’t work out. Even before Nazi Germany fell, the US entered the war and could no longer tolerate a Nazi compound in Los Angeles*. The feds raided the camp and hauled off the Stephens’ mysterious German friend, Herr Schmidt, who died shortly thereafter, mysteriously. So mysteriously there’s no record of his existence, arrest or death except through oral history. I expect Jurgen Prochnow will play him in the movie.
The Stephens stayed on a bit, but they were broke, anti-semitism wasn’t as lucrative as they thought. It was eventually sold and became an artists colony for the likes of Christopher Isherwood and Andrew Wyeth before being bought by the city of Los Angeles. It has been intended for merger with adjacent state park lands for over 20 years, but they won’t take possession until all the buildings are demolished, and LA doesn’t have that kind of scratch. So the buildings remain.**
That’s a lot of build up for an area that’s a few crumbling structures with a lot of graffiti. But that’s a few crumbling NAZI structures with a lot of graffiti. And the graffiti is kinda cool (if you are into that sort of thing).
The generator house (the NAZI generator house) seems to be a favorite target, despite the beehive inside (bring your epipen!). Every inch - even the roof - has graffiti. The twisted iron remains of a workshop and bunkhouse are nearby. I’ll post more pictures this week.
The canyon itself is lovely on its own, with many Nazi planted trees. Worth the hike even without the history (if you are into that sort of thing).
*or for that matter, Japanese people.
**I didn’t know most of the above info while I was there, although a friendly mountain biker filled me in on some of it. The info comes from these articles in the LAT.