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Murphy Ranch and the Nazis

Swastika Over LA

In 1933, a supposed mining heiress named Jessie M. Murphy purchased a 50-acre property in Rustic Canyon in the Pacific Palisades of Los Angeles. The property came to be known as Murphy Ranch. However, because there was no other record or sighting of Jessie Murphy, some historians believe the name was likely an alias used by a mysterious “Herr Schmidt,” believed to be an agent for Nazi Germany. Soon after, Norman and Winona Stephens, a wealthy Los Angeles couple, took up residence on the property. Winona Stephens was interested in the supernatural and believed Schmidt to have supernatural powers. The Stephens were low-profile Nazi sympathizers. They believed Schmidt’s predictions that Europe and America would ultimately be defeated by the Nazis and a period of anarchy in America would follow. Murphy Ranch would become a safe haven for American pro-Nazis until Hitler could take over, after which they would emerge to help to transform the country into a Nazi society. With that end in view, the Stephens opened their bank account to developing the property. They commissioned notable architects to design an elaborate, four-story neoclassical palatial mansion, detached servants' quarters, supporting infrastructure, including a 395,000-gallon water tank and local water source, a 20,000-gallon fuel tank, a power station, a machine shed, gardens for growing food and storage facilities for a long-term self-sustaining complex. The Stephens reportedly spent $4 million on the property, constructing some of the infrastructure and a few living quarters. An entry gate for the mansion (incidentally designed by noted African American architect Paul Williams) was built. A number of other Nazi sympathizers and American Nazi “Silver Shirts” joined the Stephens to assist with upkeep and security. The compound was regularly visited by anti-Semitic Hollywood types, according to locals.

On December 8, 1941, the day after the on Pearl Harbor attack and America’s entry into World War II, the FBI raided the property and took about 50 residents into custody, including the Stephens and the mysterious Schmidt. Who Schmidt was, who he worked for, and what happened to him remains shrouded in mystery.

In 1948, with the war over, the Stephens, by then released, sold the property to the Huntington Hartford Foundation to become an artist colony and retreat. After the colony closed in 1965, the City of Los Angeles purchased the property in 1975. In 2016, after having to rescue numerous adventurous visitors who became trapped or injured in the ruins on the property, the city demolished or secured most of the remained structures.

Murphy Ranch House, 2006

Murphy Ranch house in 2006. Photo by Matthew Robinson (Flickr: murphy house) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.