Exploration #3: LA96C Nike Missile Site

Know what goes surprisingly well with cold cuts? Cold war history. For this week’s adventure, my photographer Claire and I decided to take a hike up into the San Vicente mountains to investigate the abandoned LA96C Nike Missile Site, which we were pleased to find is not only a peek into Los Angeles history, but in fact a quaint picnic area with some fantastic panoramic views of the county. And those panoramic views are not just happenstance.

The site, which was built in the early 1960s, was strategically placed at a central location (15 miles from downtown, 10 miles from Venice beach) and at one of the highest points in the Santa Monica Mountains (1,950 ft.).

This made it the perfect spot for soldiers manning it on 15-mile watch to potentially spot bomb-yielding Soviet planes that would pose a threat to Los Angeles.

According to the signs placed around the site by the Sana Monica Mountain Conservatory, who now owns the land, LA96C was in fact only the control location; it didn’t house any missiles.

The launch site, LA96L, which was home to Nike Ajax defense missiles at first and later to warhead-donning Nike Hercules missiles, is four-and-a-half miles away on Sepulveda.

The high-security compound at LA96C was built to alert that launch site, and was home to some of the most advanced radar technology of the day.

Its facilities housed huge computers that could seek out even the extremely difficult-to-detect Soviet planes from up to 100 miles away, and that were equipped to record, plot, and coordinate the data needed to “neutralize” enemy targets.

So it makes sense that the largest structure on the site (which has been partially restored) is a huge, white, hexagonal radar tower, which visitors are free to climb. There is also a small water silo, the shell of a concrete guard post, and apparently a helicopter-landing pad, though Claire and I couldn’t find it.

I think the most delightful part of the experience for me, though, was seeing how completely the site’s usage has changed. There have not only been picnic tables installed, but there are handy bathrooms for hikers, and even a little telescope at the top of the radar tower for visitors to use.

I mean, truly, this abandoned Soviet-era missile control station is great for the kids! Just make sure they keep away from the barbed wire.

Directions: From the 405, exit at Mulholland Drive. Continue 2.7 miles until you reach Encino Hills Drive. Turn left onto the dirt continuation of Mulholland Drive. Continue for a few minutes until you find a parking lot near some buildings and a chain-link fence. You can either park here and take the quick, but nice, mile-long walk up to the site like we did, or you can continue driving past the yellow fire road fence to park right down the hill from it.

Exploring supplies: hiking shoes, binoculars, and a nice picnic.

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