GTFO: Murphy’s Ranch

If the fall of mankind and civilization as we know it had occurred some 30 years ago, there may very well have been a multitude of places that look just like Murphy’s Ranch. However, the apocalypse has yet to occur, and the few graffiti-blasted and rust-ravaged structures that remain standing exist in a state as unique as it is chilling. It is easy to imagine, as the main concrete structure comes into view through the foliage, that one is an explorer happening upon the ruined remains of a civilization long forgotten. Where the buildings have decayed and crumbled, nature has flourished, and now vegetation grasps at the ruins in an effort to reclaim this isolated patch of land that sits in the belly of Rustic Canyon.

Courtesy of Max Richter

Courtesy of Max Richter

Shrouded in mystery, it is difficult to separate the fact from urban legend regarding the origin of Murphy’s Ranch. According to various sources, including local residents and the Los Angeles Times, popular belief is that Murphy’s Ranch was once the home of a group of Nazi sympathizers during the mid-1930s and early 1940s. Allegedly, the compound was the brainchild of a German nationalist known as Herr Schmidt, and would’ve been able to produce its own electricity, store its own water supply, and even grow its own food. This compound was potentially completely sustainable and off the grid, allowing a small contingent of Nazi sympathizers to maintain an isolated presence within arms length of Los Angeles and Hollywood. The story seems unlikely at first, however the water tank, the gardens and even the building that housed the diesel power generator are all still there.

After hiking for about a mile and a half along an elevated, paved road that hugs the canyon wall, explorers that wish to visit Murphy’s Ranch must descend a narrow and steep staircase that leads into the bowels of the canyon. Only wide enough to allow single-file hiking, the concrete staircase also offers a makeshift handrail crafted from some sort of metal piping. The first structure that comes into view is the water tank.

The tank, a massive, hulking and rusty piece of scrap metal, looks out of place against the gentle forest canopy that obscures it from above. Like every other structure in Murphy’s Ranch, it is covered with a healthy mixture of graffiti and plant life.

Descending further into the canyon via a second set of stairs located on the opposite side of the tank from the first staircase, one will eventually reach the canyon floor. At this point, evidence of Murphy’s Ranch is everywhere. Short stone walls and piping run along the path, and at various points, pieces of asphalt remain in tact on the ground, betraying that the dirt road was perhaps once paved.

Courtesy of Max Richter

Courtesy of Max Richter

The origin of the name “Murphy’s Ranch” is as mysterious as, well, everything else about the place. When the plot of land upon which the compound sits was purchased in 1933, the buyer was a man named Jessie M. Murphy. It has been concluded that this Murphy never actually lived, as no records of any kind account for the man’s existence. It is speculated that this was a fake identity used by Herr Schmidt to conceal his pro-Nazi activity. The only other place Murphy’s name exists is on the blueprints for the structures that were built on the plot.

In 1941, federal agents allegedly evicted the Nazi sympathizers from Murphy’s Ranch, and the compound remained abandoned for decades.

Murphy’s Ranch was home to a second set of inhabitants during the 1970s. A group of artists looking to live away from the city allegedly occupied Murphy’s Ranch for several years until a wildfire forced them to flee the area, leaving it in the abandoned state in which it remains today.

The next closest structure is the large stone building in which the diesel generator was once stored. This is the only structure in the compound that remains even remotely intact, and understandably so: it is incredibly sturdy. The building is essentially a chunk of concrete with windows and doors and is the most popular place for graffiti artists to practice their craft.

Continuing along the path will lead hikers to a crumbled ruin that looks as if it once was used as a sort of living space. In this rubble pile, a few walls still remain standing, revealing glassless windows and empty doorframes. Detached sinks, a bathtub, and twisted pieces of rusted metal sit in the massive heap of rubble.

This ruin is the last major evidence of man-made structure in the isolated valley, but a few feet off the beaten path near the rubble pile is a small, crushed vehicle. The rusted metal is mostly covered by tie-dye colored paint. Upon closer examination, the vehicle can be identified as bearing the distinctive design of the Volkswagen Bus, making it one of the most interesting and perfectly placed items in Murphy’s Ranch. With Volkswagen’s roots in Nazi Germany and the VW Bus’ strong ties to the hippy movement, this abandoned vehicle seems to honor both pasts as it pays tribute to both sets of occupants that once called the isolated compound home.

Hikers can decide for themselves whether this symbolic totem is a result of coincidence or fate as they begin the difficult ascent up the narrow staircase and return to the present.