Murphy Ranch

The gate to the former Nazi camp

The gate to the former Nazi camp

Within Rustic Canyon in the Santa Monica mountains lies an abandoned bunker called Murphy Ranch that was built in the 1930s to serve as a Nazi camp for when Hitler planned to take over the US. This place is very well hidden and a really interesting hike to take. I went with my dad, sister, and boyfriend and we began the hike by parking in a residential area at the edge of the canyon. A couple twists and turns took us to a trail where we saw many bikers and dog walkers. This trail gave us a great view all the way to the ocean! We eventually came across a fence with barbed wire that served as the edge of the camp. Further down was the deteriorating entrance gate that can be seen in the photo below.

We began our descent that led us to the huge water tank that the camp built. The camp was built in 1933 by an heiress named Winona Stephens with the help of Herr Schmidt, a Nazi party member. Apparently, Schmidt believed that one day Hitler would take over America so Stephens invested $4 million to build a self-sustaining estate and compound that would survive against military attack. Their plan was to build this bunker with it’s own water, electricity, and diesel fuel to withstand time. The camp sustained until WWII, when Schmidt was captured in 1941 for being a party member and died in prison.

Now, this crazy place filled with history just sits at the bottom of the canyon and invites many hikers, photographers, and graffiti artists.

We walked down another staircase– long and windy– that lacked handrails. It eventually led us to the camp itself where there are remnants of an old greenhouse and a power station. There were a lot of dog walkers and explorers out when we went, so that made the experience more exciting. We climbed into the power station and observed the fallen down ruins, empty stray paint cans, and trash. The roof had fallen in, so the power station interior had great lighting to take pictures! See some below.

Beyond the power station sits the piles of rusty ruins that used to be the guard house of the camp. Presumably, this is where the party members would stay. Amidst the rubble were bathtubs and sinks! While most of the walls had fallen down, the garage seemed to still be standing. All this eeriness made me wonder what the heck the place looked like when it was a functioning bunker in the late 1930s. Did they really think they could build a Nazi haven in Southern California? Did they expect people to live here until Hitler arrived? Who knows, but it sounds like Schmidt believed it would last.

I continued to take pictures of the place and then we began our hike back, down a long trail with trees lining the sides. My dad led the way, playing tour guide, and when he pointed into the shrubbery on the side of the trail as our way out, I thought he was joking. It looked like just a bunch of trees and bushes! But sure enough, there was a hidden staircase deep in there. Concrete, shallow steps, and a steep incline. Looking up was daunting but he assured me that this stretch was only just the beginning of the climb… Great.

Our ascent took forever and I was huffing and puffing the whole way. The altitude provided great views of the canyon though, and we couldn’t resist yelling “Echo!” After we reached the top, he told us that the staircase was 512 steps high! My legs hurt…

I thought this place was so interesting and accessible (provided you have enough energy to do it!) I am taking a class at CI called History and Psychology of Nazi Germany and that only made this place all the more exciting! I recommend this place for history buffs and people who want to see more than traffic and fancy homes in Los Angeles.

I wrote a fictionalized account of Herr Schmidt as if he had a nephew he was showing the camp to, set in the backdrop of the Nazi craze. Check it out here.

And last but not least, my sources (and further reading):

Secret Stairs, Atlas Obscura, Huffington Post, Pacific Palisades Patch, and of course my dad, whose idea it was to go here!

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2 thoughts on “Murphy Ranch

  1. I was born in 1935 and remember when I was a little girl hearing a loud siren that would whir for 4-5 minutes. My dad would say, “Come on kids, down to the basement. But first, turn off all the lights in the house. Hurry.” At that time I didn’t realize the danger of what was happening like my parents probably did. This was an Air Raid Drill. The entire city was supposed to create a “blackout” in case the German planes where flying over. The hope was that the enemy would not see the city below and drop bombs on it. At a child, it seemed like a family game that brought us close together as we huddled in the dark basement listening to a little radio with a man’s voice that was almost drowned out by the crackly static. I thought it was exciting when the word came that we could return to the living room upstairs, turn on the lights, make our popcorn and continue listening to “Gang Busters,” my dad’s favorite radio programs. (No TV at that time!)

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