Hidden under dense foliage and down a treacherous decaying flight of hundreds of concrete stairs lies a World War II-era enigma. The now heavily graffiti-tagged Murphy Ranch sits nestled on a canyon floor between Will Rogers State Park, a Boy Scout camp, and a substantial, upscale housing development. Local journalists and at least one historian speak of the wonder and mythology of this fascinating historic ruin.
Now the property of Los Angeles City parks, Murphy Ranch was originally developed to be a self-sustaining compound in the 1930s. It was originally purchased in 1933 by Jessie Murphy – a person never seen nor documented elsewhere. Despite the phantom owner, the property was developed by Winona and Norman Stephens and a German national by the name of Herr Schmidt. The design implemented was an installation of several buildings, fuel tanks, and multiple massive cisterns. The entire complex, according to the plans of Herr Schmidt, was to be self-sustaining even if it suffered years of isolation from the outside society. Schmidt’s motivations, however, remain the focus of the lore.
A suspected Nazi sympathizer, Schmidt had a domineering personality. He convinced the Stephens to pour some $4 million in the construction of the ranch in Rustic Canyon. Despite a commanding presence, Schmidt was limited in his ambitions by the Stephens’ assets. Plans to expand the compound were halted as the Stephens – though still loyal to Schmidt – ran dry. Schmidt, according to legend, persisted in pursuing his dream of a Nazi holdout in America until the end of the war. This dream was shattered in December of 1941. Immediately after entering the war, United States Federal Agents raided (or are said to have raided) the compound hidden in the woods. Schmidt and his followers lost their dream, as they had the entire time been under the watchful eye of intelligence officials.
Abandoned for decades after the war, Murphy Ranch experienced a brief revival in the 1960s and 1970s. An artists’ colony started itself there, just outside of the reach of bustling Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Wildfires in the canyon system ended the Ranch’s renaissance, however, driving out the artists’ colony permanently.
There are two popular approaches to Murphy Ranch. One is for hikers coming from neighboring Will Rogers State Park. The other is from the residential road Capri Drive. Hike north along Sullivan Fire Road until you reach a concrete staircase on the left after about 2/3 of a mile. If you miss it, don’t worry, there is another, more roundabout entrance at a set of stone gates that follows the old driveway down. Using the staircase route makes the hiker feel like Rocky Balboa, descending over 500 steps some 200-plus feet in elevation. At the bottom, you’ll see tucked away under the trees – like a lost temple of old – the tagged piers and vacant windows of the remains of Murphy Ranch.
The city has approved tearing down Murphy’s Ranch for February 23, 2016, however major structures of the ranch still exist. Get out there and experience it before it’s gone!
Update November 2016: Parts of the ranch have been demolished. Other parts, such as the popularly photographed concrete house, still stand.
Know Before You Go
From Sunset Blvd., turn north onto Capri. Follow Capri until it ends in a T-intersection with Casale. Park and walk west on Casale, which will turn into Sullivan Fire Road. Walk through the stone gate and follow the driveway to the bottom of the Canyon.