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Hiking the Disturbing Remains of a California Hideout for Hitler

Obscura Society LA loves to take advantage of the natural area that surrounds us in Southern California, especially to explore areas off the beaten path, with curious and mysterious histories whose mythologies develop over time.

A group of United States-based Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s certainly found the right place to live in seclusion undetected for years: at the bottom of Rustic Canyon in Los Angeles’ Santa Monica Mountains. We set out to uncover their former hideout, where they waited for Hitler to conquer the US and retreat here, hidden away, but close enough to hang out with the Hollywood elite.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los Angeles In front of the Paul R. Williams-designed gated entry to Murphy Ranch, as we embark down into Rustic Canyon

But why would a group of Hitler-supporting white supremacists hire the first certified African American architect, Paul Revere Williams, to build such a grandiose gated entry for the famed, isolated, and supposedly hidden Murphy Ranch?

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesConcrete stairs leading to one of the tanks

There are many unexplained mysteries surrounding the tale of Murphy Ranch — named after a mining heiress “Jesse Murphy” who probably never actually existed — including where they actually lived down there (at one point, 40-50 Hitler supporters strong, many of the “Silver Shirts” Nazi group). 

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesCistern full of graffiti, thanks to a rusted ladder leading down into it

But there are signs as to how they survived, including giant tanks and cisterns that held enough diesel fuel and water to help them sustain life in isolation for up to three years without supplies from the outside world.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesGarden at the ranch

The residents of Murphy Ranch survived for nearly a decade by growing their own food in a concrete-walled garden, now exposed to the elements but probably once covered by a greenhouse roof.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesFenced-off machine shed area

The parcel of land that houses Murphy Ranch is technically owned by the City of Los Angeles, whose parks department has begun some rehabilitation and graffiti abatement work.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesPower House

That includes fencing off the iconic Murphy Ranch power house, left empty when its diesel engines (used for generating power for the compound) were removed years ago. A fresh coat of municipal gray paint has covered up the façade of the power house, but the graffiti on the exterior side walls, roof, and interior still remain… for now.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesIn Rustic Canyon, nothing is safe from graffiti: not even this Boy Scout camp farmhouse

But the history of Rustic Canyon does not belong solely to the inhabitants of Murphy Ranch, which was raided the day after Pearl Harbor in 1941, and eventually abandoned fully by 1948. On our way through the property, we also stopped by an old abandoned farmhouse, reportedly once part of the neighboring Boy Scout Camp Josepho.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesVW bus, underside

Signs of the artist colony that took up residence down here in the late 1960s and early 1970s are also evident, including an abandoned VW bus.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesDocumenting the rubble

The area may technically be abandoned, but it’s visited frequently by hikers and vandals, who always make sure there’s a fresh coat of paint on anything that remains down there.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesHeading up the infamous stairs

In addition to the road that leads down from the wrought iron gate entrance, there are several concrete stairways that provide access points from the fire road above down in to the canyon. 

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesThe 300 mark up the stairs, more than halfway there.

We climbed over 500 of these narrow stairs (with no railings!) to make our exit, marking our progress thanks to some graffitied markers.

Rustic Canyon's Nazi Murphy Ranch in Los AngelesHappy hikers emerging from the canyon floor

We were happy to have made our trek on a sunny spring day before the weather gets too hot, and certainly before the city government “improves” the area by removing any trace of its disturbing and baffling history.

All photographs by the author.


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The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!

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