You park on Casale Road, a winding street with modernist mini-estates in the hills of Pacific Palisades. Shiny Mercedes mini-vans and Priuses sit in the driveways. Children ride bikes with their nannies. Everything is familiar. You then walk into Rustic Canyon Park on a yuppie hiking trail much like every LA hiking trail: amazing mountain views (spectacular ones here of the Pacific Ocean), hard packed dirt paths that fall into the green valley below, horribly skinny women who look like some actress you've seen with big floppy hats walking side by side.
About 2 miles into the park, deeply engrossed in delightful gossip,
things start to get strange. A forbidding padlocked wrought-iron gate, surrounded by a low lying stone wall sits nestled on the edge of the trail. You and your friend, Farhana, have to climb over the wall, a portion of which has clearly been broken for this very purpose, and jump onto a new path which winds beautifully, like a country road in the South, deep into the canyon. Strange rusted debris starts to appear on the side of the paths. What looks like an old water filtration system, broken pieces of farm equipment, half buried sinks, strange concrete
slabs with graffiti . A lovely little steam appears and makes delightful background noises, lizards and birds scatter about your feet.
And then you see it. A burned-out overgrown concrete building completely covered with graffiti. Cartoon of Hitler? Check. Declaration of undying teenage love? Check. Inside even more graffiti, tons of beer cans and notices from the police department to cease and desist the vandalism. The bunker of the building is exposed and filled with trash; a metal cage sits menacingly in the corner, and outside a series of stone steps wind up to what seems to have once been a sustenance garden. The steps then continue all the way to the top of the canyon (3,000 steps in all) and ghosts of America Nazis patrolling the wilds fill your head.
Baby, we aren't at the Grove anymore...
We are at the Los Angeles Nazi Compound! Its history is as shady (bad pun intended) as the site itself. In 1933, a cypher named Jessie M. Murphy bought 50 acres from the screen cowboy Will Rogers. A mysterious group began to build on the land. Murphy does not seem to have ever really existed and the real leader was thought to be a man called Herr Schmidt, who led a group of about 40 or 50 Nazi sympathizers who lived at the compound. An unnamed rich couple reportedly became followers of Schmidt (who believed that "Murphy Ranch" would become a power base when Germany took over the USA) and built up the property, eventually contracting a prominent architect to design a 22 bedroom mansion.
But the plans were dashed days after Pearl Harbor when law enforcement officials raided the ranch. Later the site became an artists/hippie commune, as the rusted out VW bus resting on its side further up stream attests. Andrew Wyeth supposedly stayed there and it shows in his eerie,
still paintings (think Christina's World). Things become even creepier when you get to another burned out steel building filled with old appliances and twisted metal (a hoarders dream), connected to a strange spray painted arch that hangs over the main pathway like a perverted Arch de Triumph.
A dilapidated barn surrounded by a menacing (and in terms of history, haunting) barbed wire fence sits in an breathtaking tree dotted clearing at the end of the settlement. The fact that evil and beauty can coexist so naturally is well in evidence at Murphy Ranch and even though it's
awesome to visit, you can't help feeling a little lighter once you climb
back to civilization.
Post script: Thank you, thank you, thank you to the only people we encountered in the Canyon- three French tourists by the stream who were like something out of a Truffaut film, eating a picnic, the young man taking a dip in his tighty-whities while the women conversed rapidly.
You absolutely made my aesthetic day.
Content: A+++ (hey it's my blog I can break the rules if I want!)
Subjective Coolness/Creepy factor: A++++ (I just don't know when to stop....)
Overall: A (I hope that is correct, my math ain't that good)
Directions: Con-fus-ing. Take Sunset down to the Palisades. Turn right on Monaco Drive. Continue on Capri Drive. Then turn right at Casale Road. Park on Casale Road and then walk into the park via Sullivan Fire Road. Walk for about 1 1/2 miles until you see the un-missable wrought-iron gates, then follow the path down into the Canyon (there are two paths -they both lead you there).
Hours: I would NOT go there after dusk, unless you are very interested in LA gang life.
Price: Free except for gas and the money it takes to get all the dirt off your gym clothes.
All photos but one courtesy of Cat Vasko(thanks Cat!).