Murphy Canyon picture album
I know it’s hard to believe, and (like most things in L.A.) it sounds like only something that could exist in movies….there is an abandoned Nazi compound in Topanga Canyon in the affluent suburb Pacific Palisades. You have to park along the curb in the residential area, and I have read it is common for people to get both parking tickets and also trespassing tickets within the fenced areas of the ranch, so definitely use your best judgment and respect both the neighborhood and the ranch.
Overall, you get to hike roughly 4-miles with approximately 325 feet of elevation gain/loss while contemplating not only the dark history of the times but also the ingenuity of the engineering of the complex and also admiring the creativity of the graffiti art covering every inch of the abandoned structures.
After parking in a safe (and legal) spot in the neighborhood, you first will walk up Sullivan Ridge Fire Road with a yellow gate and a sign that reads “Camp Josepho”. During your walk up the hill you will get great views looking over the massive canyon and also out to Malibu and Santa Monica coastlines on a clear day. After about a third to a half a mile along the paved road beyond the yellow gate a chain link fence begins. You will see a couple of breaks in the fence that lead to steep stairs going down into the canyon. If you stay on the paved road, you will eventually come to a gated driveway where the gate is littered with graffiti. Any of these options will take you down to Murphy Ranch.
This area was built in the 1930s by Nazi sympathizers Herr Schmidt, Winona and Norman Stephens, and their followers. It is said that they invested roughly $4 million to construct the complex and designed it to be a self-sustaining refuge for them to live in while awaiting the Nazis to overthrow the American government. Instead, the ranch was raided by U.S. authorities and closed in 1941. The abandoned buildings were transformed into an artists’ colony in the 60s and 70s, but were abandoned after the Mandeville Canyon Fire in 1978.
The steep steps from the first break in the fence is the most challenging and heart-pounding option, as you descend over 1/10th of a mile at a significant elevation drop. The sides of the canyon next to you as you descend were once terraced by the Nazi inhabitants and irrigated to harvest nut, fruit, and olive trees.
Whether you descend the stairs or walk around/through the abandoned driveway gate, you are greeted with a taste of what this place has become famous for–bright graffiti art.
Once at the bottom of the canyon, you will be on a road that is lined with a small brick foundation wall to prevent the land from sliding down, and this is also covered in various graffiti names and pictures. If you came down from the gated driveway, your first structure will most likely be the giant water tower. Peeking inside the now empty tank shows you how many graffiti artists made the massive walls their canvas for creativity. If you had come down the steps, then you will be faced with the option of going right or left on the road. Either way, you will also eventually come across a series of walking trails that connect on building to another in this compound. You will come across a ranch house, horse stables, a machinery shed, a powerhouse with a massive generator, a metal water tank, a greenhouse with outdoor gardens, and various broken down machinery including vehicles.
Each building is technically off-limits and could result in trespassing tickets if law enforcement is in the area and catch you behind a fence, but those who are of the daring and rebellious mindset will see some pretty impressive artwork littering the walls of the structures.
Directions: From Sunset Boulevard, 3 miles west of the 405, turn north at the light onto Capri Drive. After 1/3 mile continue through the traffic circle, remaining on Capri Drive for another 1/3 mile until it comes to and end at Casale Road. Sullivan Ridge Fire road begins to the left. Find street parking to the right or on an adjacent road.
Trailhead address: Capri Drive & Casale Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Trailhead coordinates: 34.061097, -118.504121 (34° 03′ 39.94″N 118° 30′ 14.83″W)