The Would-Be Nazi Stronghold Hidden in the Hills of L.A.

Atlas Obscura
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Feb. 27 2014 10:06 AM

Murphy Ranch, the Abandoned Nazi Compound in the Hills of L.A.

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Hidden in Los Angeles' Rustic Canyon, which overlooks the ritzy homes of Pacific Palisades, are the trashed remains of a would-be Nazi stronghold.

In 1933, an affluent couple named Winona and Norman Stephens acquired 55 acres of secluded land and began building a compound. They had been moved to do so by a charismatic German fellow known only as "Herr Schmidt."

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Schmidt was a prominent member of the Silver Legion of America, a fascist, anti-Semitic, white supremacist group. He convinced the Stephenses that the USA would soon be invaded by Germany as part of the Nazis' New Order. What Los Angeles needed, he contended, was a hideout where Third Reich sympathizers could sequester themselves until German rule had been established.

Duly persuaded, Winona and Norman oversaw the construction of a power station, fuel and water storage tanks, and irrigated hillside garden beds for growing food. Murphy Ranch was intended to be a self-sufficient community—but that didn't mean sacrificing comforts and luxuries. By 1941 there were plans to build a four-story, 22-bedroom mansion with multiple dining rooms and libraries. Ironically, the man who drew up the blueprints for this secret Nazi haven was Paul Williams, the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects.

The fancy mansion never materialized. In December 1941, right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI raided Murphy Ranch and took Herr Schmidt into custody. Norman and Winona sold the compound in 1948. During the '60s and '70s it operated as an artists' community—hence the bombed out VW van lying on its side.

Though a major fire ripped through the compound in 1978, a few of its structures remain: a graffiti-covered power station, a buckled cylindrical fuel tank, the garden bed foundations, and a collapsed fuel shed.

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