As the Cold War fades into history, physical reminders of its very real menace still exist here and there throughout Los Angeles. Begun in 1953, Project Nike consisted of rings of Hercules anti-aircraft missile batteries built around major U.S. cities as defenses from Soviet bombers. L.A.'s 16 decommissioned Nike sites have since morphed into everything from a moon rocket test bed (base LA-98, whose “Magic Mountain” nickname was later adopted by the nearby theme park) and prison camp (Conservation Camp #16 on Mount Gleason, which was overrun by the 2009 Station Fire with the loss of two inmate firefighters) to a SWAT team training facility (LA-88, on Oak Mountain north of Chatsworth) and a storied makeout spot (LA-94 Los Pinetos, overlooking Newhall). By far the best-preserved area Nike location is LA-96 on San Vicente Mountain in Encino, which boasts information panels, benches and restrooms. The others can require some serious hiking (or biking), are in decidedly varying states of degradation and/or offer only limited (legal) access. A 13-mile round-trip trudge to the former Magic Mountain fire-control base is rewarded with hulking, graffiti-blighted concrete test stands for 1960s Apollo rocket engines — or, as some conspiracy theorists assert, the remains of faked lunar landings.
Credit: Paul Rogers