Strange Cluster of Ruined Buildings Was to Be Hitler’s Californian Base

Set in the hills on the outskirts of Los Angeles, in a quiet valley in the Will Rogers Historic Park, is the unlikeliest of sights. Lying beyond a ruined yet imposing gateway is a cluster of dilapidated buildings, crumbling, rusting, overgrown with encroaching vegetation and covered in ugly graffiti. This is all that remains of a ranch, known as Murphy Ranch, which was set up in the 1930s by a group of USA fascists who supported Hitler and the Nazi party’s rise to power in Germany. It is thought that Murphy Ranch was intended to be the USA headquarters for the Nazis if they won the Second World War.

As in Europe, so too in the USA, fascism was on the rise in the 1930s, fuelled by the hardship of the Great Depression. The land where the ranch was established, some 55 acres in extent, was owned by a wealthy couple, Norman and Winona Stephens. They had befriended and been influenced by a mysterious German visitor, known as Herr Schmidt. It is thought that he was probably an agent working for Hitler. Schmidt persuaded Norma Stephens, who had a large inheritance, to invest in developing the ranch into a suitable base for Hitler to use for USA operations, The Huffington Post reports.

Together with other sympathisers of the Nazi cause, known collectively as the Silver Shirts, Norman and Winona Stephens transformed the ranch. They built a small power station fuelled by diesel, an iron water tank, various food storage lockers, a vegetable garden, a bomb shelter and living quarters. Among the architectural plans that have survived intact, there is one showing  a 22-room multi-storey mansion. The Silver Shirts carried out drills in preparation for what they saw as the coming war.

The ranch, however, was never completed. Shortly  after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, the USA declared war on Germany and rounded up many sympathisers of the Nazi cause. This included the Silver Shirts group working on the Murphy Ranch. It was only then that neighbouring ranchers realised what lay behind the strange goings-on at Murphy Ranch.

For a while after the war, the site was used by a community of artists and writers.  Since then, it has long stood abandoned. Approached by a long and very steep flight of concrete stairs, the strange cluster of ruins has become something of a curiosity for visiting historians, curious hikers and even neo-nazis. Now an utter wreck, it is soon to be cleared and the site turned into a picnic-ground for people hiking in the park.

Images: Matthew Robinson – Flickr: murphy house. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE