murphy's ranch & complicity
(524 Stairs down to Murphy's Ranch Compound)
Yesterday I went on a hike with two of my closest friends in Los Angeles. Deciding to shake things up, we didn’t hit Griffith Park or Runyon Canyon - two of our usual spots; instead we drove out to the Pacific Palisades to hike a trail called Murphy’s Ranch.
A little background on Murphy’s Ranch is necessary. Here’s information I’ve found on the property from various blogs and websites. Back during World War II, Norman and Winona Stephens were two American Nazi-sympathizers who were convinced by a German named Herr Schmidt that Germany would ultimately win WWII and when that happened, the American government would collapse and anarchy would ensue. The Stephens believed that Germany would win the war and therefore decided to build themselves a self-sustaining community and safe place to hide until they could ultimately be rescued by German forces and help with the German takeover. The owner of the ranch as of 1933 was Jessie M. Murphy, hence Murphy’s Ranch. Thankfully, as we all know, that German takeover didn’t happen.
Murphy’s Ranch now, however, is a mere ghost of what it once was. The wrought-iron gate that once stood as the compound’s entrance (designed by a well-known African American architect in the SoCal area named Paul Williams) is now no more, as well as several other structures. The three main structures that are still in tact are a water tower, the garden area, and what was known as the power house, which generated everything. Based on the various blog sites I’ve read about Murphy’s Ranch, the Stephens had invested around $4 million dollars into the compound, including the above mentioned sites, as well as a machine shed, fully irrigated hillside for growing food, and storage tank for diesel fuel (which I believe might have been a large tank we saw early on in our journey down the stairs). The Stephens had also made plans to build a four-story mansion on the property, but around the time of Pearl Harbor, they were taken into custody. It is also worth mentioning that the Stephens built a set of concrete stairs into the hillside leading down to the compound (pictured first): 524 stairs down, which is also 524 stairs up. It was tough.
What remains of Murphy’s Ranch now is just a few structures covered in some impressive graffiti and a reminder of the horrific oppression and social injustices that occurred less than a century ago. There was a lot of time for thought and reflection while hiking back up those 524 stairs. I’m a firm believer in trying to see all sides of an argument and attempting to understand someone else’s point of view because I believe it makes people better communicators. This hike, however, left me with feelings of frustration and anger that anyone could sympathize with the Nazis in WWII. No matter what happens, I vow to never be someone who just stands by while injustice happens because it’s “not happening to me.” The experience made me think a lot about Martin Niemöller and his “First they came for the Socialists..” quotation from one of his postwar lectures. He spent the last 7 years of Nazi rule in concentration camps because he was so outspoken about Hitler and his wrongdoings. The quotation in full has to do with with people who didn’t stand up for others so when the Germans came for them, there was no one left to stand up for them. It’s about being complicit in another’s wrongdoings because of your silence. If you don’t stand up for what’s right, you’re part of what’s wrong.
I think a lot of people should think about what they say when they remain silent. I won’t be complicit.