Reckless Curiosity: A Practical Guide for the Urban Adventurer

EXPLORATION #1: Abandoned Nazi Compound

The setting:

WWII Los Angeles, high in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The plot:

Winona Stephens, wife of a wealthy engineer and silver miner, becomes infatuated with a mysterious German Nazi called “Herr Schmidt” who claims to have magical powers.

Under Schmidt’s influence, she convinces her husband to spend $4 million on a 50-acre self-sufficient compound to serve as a safe haven for American Nazi sympathizers until the Germans conquer Europe.

Then it can become the command center from which they begin their takeover of weakened United States.


I know it sounds like the setup for a paperback spy thriller, but it’s not.

It’s history, and proof of it lies only a hop, skip and jump away from Santa Monica College.

Right next to Topanga State Park lay the dilapidated ruins of this shady chapter of local history.

I first heard about the site from a friend, and after doing some Googling, discovered three archived LA Times articles investigating the compound’s history.

The articles revealed that though historians have pieced together the story using a combination of documents and oral histories, making the details admittedly sketchy, it’s likely that the tale is at least partially true.

Apparently, Los Angeles was rife with Nazi activity during World War II, and many American Nazi groups considered it to be a key place to spread propaganda and further their campaigns.

The story has it that the couple ran out of money before they could finish the compound, but traveling down the trail, there’s still plenty of evidence of the immense infrastructure they created for a completely self-sustaining community.

“They created a whole environment of their own," local historian Thomas Young told the LA Times in 1990.

At the site, you can scramble inside and atop a 20,000-gallon fuel silo, look down into a 395,000-gallon water tank, walk through the horse stables, and investigate the ruins of the power plant that was built.

There are also remains of a few buildings on the property, but they are too decrepit to identify.

One graffiti-covered concrete structure had some catwalks that were super fun to climb, and nearby there are two concrete enclaves with rusty metal hatches.

Bomb shelters, perhaps?

One particularly impressive sight is the enormous pile of metal that I can only assume is what remains of a machine shed mentioned in the Times articles.

The now caved-in structure is pretty stunning.

The scraps of rusty metal look almost intentionally placed, hanging from odd places and creating strange forms, resembling modern art statues.

Even more interesting to behold, is the bright-pink bougainvillea bush that has somehow managed to flourish in the middle of it all.

One part of urban exploration that is always fascinating is seeing a man-made structure slowly being conquered by nature.

So even if the site’s story is halfway legend, this is definitely a location worth investigating. Anyway, isn’t the mystery half the fun?

SUGGESTED EXPLORING SUPPLIES: sturdy shoes, water bottle, Swiss army knife, and a camera.

DIRECTIONS: Take Sunset west of the 405. Turn right onto Monaco Drive. Continue to roundabout, and take the Capri Drive North exit. This will become Casale Road, then Sullivan Fire Road. Park in the neighborhood and walk up the dirt road. Continue past the Rustic Canyon trail sign for approximately one mile until you see an iron gate. This is the entrance. Begin your expedition!

Two things to keep in mind: Set aside about two to three hours for this adventure. When you reach the fork (past the concrete water silo), stay to your left. Have fun!