The twisted metal gates just off Sullivan Ridge Fire Road in Rustic Canyon near Will Rogers State Park seem innocent enough to the casual dog walker or passing jogger, but for those in the know, the former Murphy Ranch offers a sinister look at Los Angeles history. The decrepit 50-acre estate tells the story of the Nazi Party's attempt to lengthen Adolf Hitler's reach into the United States by creating a fascist paradise near Malibu.
The sprawling estate was reportedly meant to be a self-contained wonderland for Hitler and his followers. The acreage had originally been purchased in 1933 by a Jesse M. Murphy, a member of a prominent Pasadena family that made a small fortune in the thumbtack business.
By 1938, the land was under the control of Murphy's daughter Winona and her husband Norman Stephens. At some point, newspapers later reported, the Stephens fell under the influence of a mysterious “Herr Schmidt,” who persuaded the couple to invest in constructing a West Coast outpost for Herr Hitler and his American followers.
But Hitler was to never step foot in his hilltop Eden. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the interception of a few secret communications, feds raided the complex and hauled away the mysterious Schmidt, according to the book L.A. Exposed. The Stephens were brought in for questioning, but were released, left to return to their unfinished $4 million investment.
What remained of the effort was a self-contained compound complete with power plant, water treatment center, stables and an organic environment alien to the area. Hikers familiar with flora and fauna will notice this right away — many trees on the grounds are not native to area such as pine and fir trees.
And while at least one enterprising group has found a creative use for the property, today the city-owned ruins serve mostly as a reminder of what could have been — and a unique opportunity: a chance to explore one of history's greatest and scariest “what-if” scenarios.
After entering the rusty gates (designed by African-American architect Paul Revere Williams, oddly enough), hikers will first come across a large cement water reservoir. Decades of graffiti cover every surface of the crumbling estate, this included.
About a mile down from the water reservoir, hikers will see the remains of the stables. However, most folks will hear the stables before they see them: They're now a virtual beehive, where thousands of stingy little guards keep intruders away from the structure. Inside, the ruins to the stables hold their integrity, but only barely.
Rotten wood, graffiti and honeycombs seems to be holding together the long-abandoned building.
Continuing down the path, an old Volkswagen bus lays on its side, a relic from a more modern time, probably during the compound's time as an art colony in the '60s, before its abandonment in the '70s.
Following the path, hikers will see the large, red-hued twisted metal remains of the machine shed. A massive archway borders the path of the hike as parts of the machinery and former quarters lay in wreckage to the side of the road. The twisted metal wonderland looks more like birthplace of tetanus than the cradle of West Coast fascism.
Bathtubs, kitchen sinks and bed frames litter the road as well.
Toward the end of the hike, you will come across the main structure: the power plant. The two-story monument of the fallen fascist regime is still partially intact, although nothing of the building's past — not the room-size Diesel engine that was to power the estate, nor the fuel tanks once housed here — remain. (There are more bees, though.)
The final stop on the hike is the water tower. If you're brave enough to venture inside, you will find that many a teenager and hobo before you has made the water tower a place to seek shelter from both the elements and authorities.
Remains of makeshift campsites, including beer cans, fire pits and old blankets can be found inside the metal structure. Also used condoms. Probably best not to dwell on that one.
Outside the tower, steep, foreboding staircases reach about 250 feet, leading away from the ranch (or to, depending on which order you decide to start your hike). Also known as the “Secret Staircase,” the steep, cement steps are not for the weak of heart.
Last year, rumors of demolition brought out droves of hikers and hipsters hoping for a final look at the Hitler bunker. However, it appears that this is not the case. Its owner, the City of Los Angeles, has no formal plans for demolition.
“There are talks right now,” reported a Parks & Rec employee, who asked not to be named, “but nothing in terms of a plan.”
How to get there: Park at the intersection of Capri Drive and Casale Road in the Pacific Palisades. Walk up and to the left to Sullivan Ridge Fire Road from Casale Road. Walk ½ a mile. You will see the steep staircases first, followed by the gate.