BODY POLITIC : Retreat of the Master Race

The remains of a Nazi utopia lie eerily quiet at the bottom of Rustic Canyon. For years, the L. A. Department of Recreation and Parks has wanted to bulldoze the site and make it into a picnic area, but a constant shortage of money and staff has left undisturbed the dream of Winona Stephens.

In 1933, Stephens, heir to a mining fortune, created the Murphy Ranch on 50 secluded acres near what is now Topanga State Park. The evil genius behind it all, according to Pacific Palisades historian Randy Young, was a Nazi spy named Schmidt. Herr Schmidt persuaded Stephens to invest more than $4 million to create a self-supporting community where a chosen few would live until the day anarchy fell on the United States after a presumed Nazi victory over England. They would then emerge to govern a California hungry for order.

By 1940, they had built a garage with living quarters overhead, a huge concrete water tank, a diesel fuel tank and a dual-generator power station. Stephens, Schmidt and 50 other future master racers lived on the site, cultivating a vegetable garden and waiting for the New World Order. Guards stood at the gates, and the sounds of military drills often rang through the canyon.

The day after the United States entered World War II, Schmidt was arrested by the FBI and the community soon began to disintegrate. Now the buildings lie in ruins, littered with the remains of bonfires and plastered with graffiti, including swastikas. The canyon walls above are cut by four staircases of crumbling, treacherous concrete.

To get to Murphy Ranch, hike a couple of miles down the Camp Josepho fire road, which starts at the west end of Casale Road, until the big flagstone gateway appears. Simply walk around behind the right side of the imposing structure; it's only a mile or so more down the roadway made dark with thick ponderosa pine stands, bougainvillea and overhanging eucalyptus, to the ruined Nazi mecca.

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