“Tomorrow we hike down to The Nazi Camp!” I tell my friend who has just flown in from Vancouver.
It’s Fall and she’s got to get out of the rain. L.A. is where she chooses to be for a few days. It’ll keep her warm, dry and a little bit happier to be somewhere different.
She scrunches up her nose at me mentioning the “Nazi”part; a typical reaction expected any time after Hitler let loose on the world. Nevertheless, after way too much rain, she’s up for anything. Especially a hike. Also, I sense she may be a tad curious.
Murphy’s Ranch, also known as “The Nazi Camp,” is located in Rustic Canyon, hidden deep in the hollows of Pacific Palisades. The Camp, as it sits now, is a group of dilapidated structures, a water tower and a (empty) fuel tank well hidden from all automobile and foot traffic happening in the hills above. The structures provide a perfect canvas for the graffiti artist. And that it is. The structures drip with art.
The Camp was built in the late 1930’s by Norm and Winona Stephens, who were Nazi sympathizers, at the persuasion of a German man known as Herr Schmidt. Apparently, Herr Schmidt persuaded the wealthy couple to finance and build a fully sustainable community to have up and running for when Hitler took over the world. Well he never did. So no one really knows for sure if it ever was inhabited prior to or during WWII or not.
I’ve read and heard several rumors. One is that it’s believed that a group of 50 people lived down there, and on the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the FBI swept up the commune dwellers. They were never to be heard from again. I also read that the commune had been built but was never inhabited. Left empty. Another rumor is that a hippy commune resided there in the 70’s. A somewhat cultish one. However, the rumor I hear most often is that the City will be taking away the structures within the“next couple months.” Well, the “next couple months” has been going on for over the past 10 years, and, to date, everything still seems to be there.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning and we get a bit of a late start. We take The 101 to The 405, get off at Sunset, drive west a few miles, turn right and travel all the way up Capri to its end. We park on a side street close by.
As we hike up the fire road preparing to infiltrate the hills, we catch sight of stunning views of the ocean and a strinkingly magnified and clear view of Catalina Island. Although not rare, this is not common for a city so smog-packed at times. Opera music bellows through the canyon coming from the house above. The music follows us as we hike through nature and its sounds are so moving. I feel grateful to be able to share this experience with my Vancouver friend. However, as she and I are enjoying the scenery and chatting away, I can’t help but notice people wandering around. They look lost. They’re trying to find where this place is. It’s my third time here. I still don’t know where it is. Will we be lost too?
I see two short posts guarding a trail. I know this isn’t the way I’ve been before. But we choose the route anyway and start hiking down a long and winding trail. We zig zag back and forth, and with every zig, the bellowing follows, but with every zag, the music fades away. Are we going the right way?
Then during the next “zag” of silence I see…
Spray paint cans! The graffiti artists have been here! We have to be close.
We then see something sticking up from out of the trees. Less than one hundred feet away is a dilapidated structure which looks like it could have once been sleeping quarters. Inside the structure it’s dripping with graffiti. Some beautiful. Some provocative. Some sweet. Some of it a little bit obscene.
As we continue along the bottom of the canyon in the same direction as when we were walking on the fire road, we come across another structure. Then another. Then another structure. Each one of them aren’t revealed to us until we get within tens of feet of them. Each building is different. What is each structure’s function, we wonder? Living quarters? Kitchen? Workshop? Ammunition storage? Jail cell?
We finally arrive at the last one – the Town Center, I call it. The roof is caved in and and it’s grounds are wildly overgrown with bougenvilla. As far as we could tell, it seems like this was their meeting place. There is evidence of plumbing. An outdoor stove close by. A big fire pit. More so, it’s bigger than the rest of the structures. But out of all the structures, there’s barely any of it left.
After touring what I call the Town Center, we’re ready to leave. As we’re trying to find our way back up, we chuckle at the “No Graffiti” sign we see and behind that sign we find Murphy’s Ranch Stairs. It’s a steep climb back up to the fire road.
I don’t climb them without huffing and puffing. These stairs – they’re pretty steep.
Trailhead Address: Capri Drive & Casale Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
*** UPDATE *** The City has begun demolition of these buildings. As of February 23, 2016 demolition of the Ranch will be complete. Prior to that the trails are closed. If you wish to hike, go at your own risk… Rangers are handing out No Trespassing tickets. The same trails will be re-opened by March. The stairs will most likely be left in place.
For more history about Murphy’s Ranch click on the articles below
When visiting, look for arrows on the ground of the fire road directing visitors to “Murphy’s Ranch.” Sometimes they’re there. Sometimes they’re not.
Expect the graffiti to change every time you visit. The artists are always at it.