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Monday, April 2, 2018

Southern California Vol. 17: Murphy Ranch - The Hollywood Nazi Compound

 This is a story that’s been told before on Travel Channel and History Channel shows as well as many other blogs.  However, if you’re going to write about Southern California and weird destinations, it’s almost required that you cover Murphy Ranch Trail and the strange history behind what’s there.

It all began in 1933, when that red-blooded American Will Rogers sold a piece of land to Jessie Murphy.  Right off the bat, the story gets weird.  You see, other than the bill of sale, there is no other record of anyone named Jessie Murphy associated with the ranch.  Instead, the story revolves around Norman and Winona Stephens.  Norman was a mining engineer and all evidence points to Winona as being the mysterious “Jessie Murphy” who bought the land.  She was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist.   

Why would they be so secretive about buying a plot of land?  Well, that's where the whole "Nazi" part comes in.  Back in 1933, Norman and Winona became followers of a mysterious man called “Herr Schmidt”.  He claimed to be a psychic and he told the Stephens’ that he’d had a vision.  In that vision, Germany would run rampant across Europe and unite the continent under Hitler’s rule.  He saw America fall as well but warned that when it happened, crime and chaos would break out across the country until Hitler's forces restored order.

He directed Norman and Winona to build a compound on the land.  It would have its own water supply, plentiful housing, stores of fuel and food and even a power station.  There, Nazi sympathizers could gather and wait for America to fall to Hitler’s army before establishing themselves in the new government.  Believe it or not, they trusted him enough to blow their own money on building the compound.  The estimate is that they spent over four million dollars on construction with German investors contributing more. 

For a short time, the compound was used as a meeting place for the Silver Shirts, a Nazi sympathizer group founded by William Pelley, whose numbers were reportedly 15,000 strong at their height.  Then, Pearl Harbor was attacked and everything changed.  The compound was raided the day after and federal officers arrested Herr Schmidt, confiscating a bunch of equipment including a radio that was powerful enough to transmit and receive messages from Germany.  

Over the next few years, with America firmly entrenched in the war, the Silver Shirts lost what popularity they had.  William Pelley found himself on the wrong side of the law due to "UN-AMERICAN" activities and they disbanded.  The country did not tolerate Nazi sympathizers and Norman and Winona Stephens were bankrupt. 

The ranch was abandoned and after the war it became an artist colony.  Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer) lived there for a short time.  The land was eventually purchased by the city of Los Angeles and a hiking trail was established that will take you out to the ruins.  It’s about a four mile hike with stairs that have been described as "total ass-kickers", but totally worth doing if you’re into seeing strange history first hand.

As you can see, it’s a much more colorful place than it was when the Stephens’ built it.  The trail is easy to access via Will Rogers State Park or from another trail above.  L.A. was going to bulldoze the ruins back in 2012, however the funding was earmarked for other uses.  If you're out here and enjoy hiking, you should check out this weird piece of Hollywood history while it's still standing.

Until next time, Adios!


Lisanne Harrington said...

Where do you come up with this stuff? Yet another place this native has never heard about.

Cary said...

This one has been on a couple of shows Karen and I have seen on Discovery & History Channel. I think people from my generation tend to think that America was always very anti-Nazi during WWII. Most don't realize that there were sympathizers here who semi-openly supported Hitler's movements in Europe prior to Pearl Harbor.

Pretty fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

Them stairs look mighty tasty. I would go check it out if I could see some Nazis, but it looks like the sketch factor is pretty high. Then again, the Nazis had an affection for meth so it could be a twofer.