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The Missiles of Los Angeles

Nike Hercules Air-Defense Missile

Photo from Nike Historical Society

During most of the 1950s and much of the 1960s, the United States saw large formations of attacking bombers as its primary strategic threat. Its answer to this threat came to be Nike supersonic anti-aircraft missile launch sites surrounding key American population and industrial centers such as Los Angeles.

In 1954, the Army began operating its first Nike missile launch site in the Los Angeles area. The site was located in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu. In late 1952, the 47th Air Defense Brigade established its headquarters at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro to assume responsibility for providing air defenses for the Los Angeles area. By 1958, the brigade had established 16 Nike-Ajax launch sites ringing the Greater Los Angeles area. These sites were located in Malibu, Van Nuys, Chatsworth, Newhall, Saugus, Mt. Gleason, Barley Flats, El Monte, Brea, Stanton, Long Beach, San Pedro, Palos Verdes, Torrance, El Segundo, and Playa del Rey. At each site, missiles were concealed in underground bunkers and, in the event of a threat, were brought to the surface, loaded onto missile launchers and elevated for firing.

In 1958, the Army began upgrading Nike missile sites in the Los Angeles area from the Nike-Ajax missile to the more powerful and longer-range Nike-Hercules missile. The new missile could also be armed with a nuclear warhead. Due to the enhanced capabilities of Nike-Hercules, the Army reduced the number of launch sites around Los Angeles from 16 to 9.

In order to protect this vital arsenal, the Los Angeles area air defense system became the first in the nation to use Army sentry dogs to protect missile sites. In November 1958, four sentry dogs and their handlers began patrolling the Chatsworth missile launch site.

By the end of the 1960s, the need for anti-aircraft missiles had begun to diminish. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) became the dominant strategic threat. By 1971, only 6 of the 16 original Nike launch sites in the Los Angeles area remained operational. On February 4, 1974, the Army ordered all Nike missile sites to deactivate.

Few signs are left of the former Los Angeles Nike missile system. Former sites have been "beaten into plowshares" and are now used for such diverse purposes as fire department and correctional facilities (Malibu, Mt. Gleason, Barley Flats), local government maintenance yards (El Monte, Palos Verdes), an oil field (Brea), an office complex (Long Beach), a commercial radar site (Newhall) and a cement company (Saugus). The California National Guard currently uses the former Van Nuys and Stanton sites. The Federal Court House in Pasadena is located on a former Nike support facility. Rancho Palos Verdes City Hall occupies the former administrative building for the Palos Verdes Missile Site.

Source: The Fort MacArthur Museum


Map of Los Angeles Area Missile Sites

Map of former Los Angeles Defense Area Missile Sites. Map created by the Los Angeles Almanac using JPL satellite image.

Site Location Approximate Address Geographic Coordinates Period in Service
LA04 Mt Gleason, Angeles National Forest Forest Service Rd 3N17, Palmdale 34.378056, -118.150833 1956-1974
LA09 Barley Flats, Angeles National Forest Unnamed Road, Palmdale 34.278333, -118.075556 1956-1961
LA14 South El Monte 1201 Potrero Ave, South El Monte 34.043611, -118.058889 1956-1961
LA29 Rowland Heights/Puente Hills Vantage Pointe Dr, Rowland Heights 33.959444, -117.886111 1958-1971
LA32 Garden Grove 11751 Western Ave, Garden Grove 33.792222, -118.002778 1956-1974
LA40 Long Beach Airport 2938 CA-19, Long Beach 33.808889, -118.140556 1956-1963
LA43 San Pedro/Fort MacArthur Grassland Loop Trail, San Pedro 33.716667, -118.314167 1955-1974
LA55 Rancho Palos Verdes/Point Vincente 30940 Hawthorne Blvd, Rancho Palos Verdes 33.745, -118.405 1956-1974
LA57 Torrance 25225 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance 33.796667, -118.329722 1956-1963
LA70 Playa de Rey/LAX 9111 Falmouth Ave, Playa Del Rey 33.952222, -118.438333 1956-1963
LA73 Playa del Rey/LAX 9111 Falmouth Ave, Playa Del Rey 33.952222, -118.438333 1956-1963
LA78 Malibu Camp 8 Heliport, Malibu 34.059722, -118.646111 1963-1974
LA88 Chatsworth/Oat Mountain Palo Sola Truck Rd, Chatsworth 34.311389, -118.608611 1957-1974
LA94 Newhall/Los Pinetos Forest Rte 3N17, Newhall 34.348611, -118.408056 1955-1968
LA96 Lake Balboa Orange Line Busway, Lake Balboa 34.185, -118.482222 1957-1974
LA98 Santa Clarita/Magic Mountain 13910 Lang Station Rd, Canyon Country 34.431389, -118.375556 1955-1968

Reference: List of Nike Missile Sites - Wikipedia and Almanac research.