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The Missiles of Los Angeles

U.S. Army, Nike Hercules, Air-Defense, Missile, LA88

Nike Hercules missile site LA88, north of Chatsworth. Photo from U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal Historical Information.

During most of the 1950s and much of the 1960s, the United States saw large formations of attacking bombers as its primary strategic threat (presumably from the Soviet Union). 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.

On November 20, 1952, the 47th Air Defense Brigade established its headquarters at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, taking responsibility for the air defense of the Los Angeles area. Initially, the unit only had anti-aircraft guns to deploy, the same as Los Angeles had since World War II. However, within a few years, the Army began operating its first Nike missile launch sites in the Los Angeles area. According to the Fort MacArthur Museum, in 1954, the first missile site in the Los Angeles area to become operational was site LA-78, located above Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains. By 1958, the brigade had 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 its Nike missile sites from Nike-Ajax missiles to more powerful and longer-range Nike-Hercules missiles. Unlike the earlier generation Ajax, the new missile could be armed with a nuclear warhead, which, in the event of having to defend Los Angeles, would detonate far out to sea near approaching bomber formations. 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 add Army sentry dogs for security around missile sites. In November 1958, four sentry dogs and their handlers began patrolling the LA-88 missile launch site in Chatsworth.

U.S. Army, Nike Missiles, Los Angeles, 1966

1966. U.S. Army soldiers Specialist Willie Booker and Private First Class Keneth Warner train with a Canine Corps dog to defend Nike missile installation LA-55 in Rancho Palos Verdes. These were highly sensitive, secured military installations, guarded by armed soldiers. In 1958, Chatsworth's LA-88 site became the first in the nation to be guarded by sentry dog teams. Photo from the L.A. Times Photographic Collection at UCLA Library.

By the end of the 1960s, the need for anti-aircraft missiles had diminished. 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 34.378056, -118.150833 1956-Apr 1974
LA09 Barley Flats, Angeles National Forest Unnamed Road off Angeles Crest Highway 34.278333, -118.075556 Dec 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-Jun 1971
Site Location Approximate Address Geographic Coordinates Period in Service*
LA32 Garden Grove 11751 Western Ave, Garden Grove 33.792222, -118.002778 1956-Mar 1974
LA40 Long Beach Airport 2938 Lakewood Blvd, Long Beach 33.808889, -118.140556 1956-1963
LA43 San Pedro/Fort MacArthur Grassland Loop Trail, San Pedro 33.716667, -118.314167 1955-Mar 1974
LA55 Rancho Palos Verdes/Point Vincente 30940 Hawthorne Blvd, Rancho Palos Verdes 33.745, -118.405 1956-Mar 1974
Site Location Approximate Address Geographic Coordinates Period in Service*
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-Mar 1974
Site Location Approximate Address Geographic Coordinates Period in Service*
LA88 Chatsworth/Oat Mountain Palo Sola Truck Rd, Chatsworth 34.311389, -118.608611 1957-Mar 1974
LA94 North of Sylmar, Angeles National Forest Unnamed road, off Santa Clara Truck Trail 34.348611, -118.408056 1955-Nov 1968
LA96 Lake Balboa Orange Line Busway, Lake Balboa 34.185, -118.482222 1957-Sep 1974
LA98 Santa Clarita/Magic Mountain 13910 Lang Station Rd, Canyon Country 34.431389, -118.375556 1955-Dec 1968

* In a number of cases, the Almanac found differing information on years of activation and/or deactivation for Nike sites listed above, depending on source. The initial year range shown in this list was provided by The Military Standard and List of Nike Missile Sites - Wikipedia. Where The Fort MacArthur Museum differs, that year range is included in parentheses.