27 July 2007

One of the few interesting things in Southern California that has not yet been turned into a theme park.

Hiked today with friend Leslie through Rustic Canyon, in the hills above L.A., to check out a WWII era commune hidden down in the bottom of the canyon. I will defer to this Derelict Urban Structures blog post for the detailed history, but to sum up, a wealthy heiress was persuaded by her fiance, a German Nazi official, to build a self-sufficient community that would survive a potential Nazi attack on America (after the inevitable victory in Europe, naturally). The commune cost about $4M to build and fortify, and featured buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In Los Angeles, if you're going to do it at all, better to do it right, including trendy architecture.

We hiked up some paved and dirt roads until we found the first staircase leading steeply down to the canyon floor. The first building we encountered was the old concrete generator house, now artfully decorated by layers of graffiti. The effect was pretty cool, but it was exactly the kind of place I wouldn't want to be after dark, when it must surely serve as a hangout for tougher types than me.

We came upon a burnt-out and twisted steel building which probably had some living quarters (and a bathroom), and then a steel and wood barn-type building, fenced off and quite unsafe looking. Most of the living areas were probably wood structures, destroyed by fires; at least, we didn't see any foundations, etc. The path was paved with asphalt at one point and was mostly still intact, though overgrown with lots of poison oak. The road and staircase network is extensive (it was designed for security patrols), but we successfully found the main road/path leading back up to the massive metal and stone gates fronting onto the main canyon road. What a good way of staying inconspicuous! We also saw a concrete cistern and another round steel structure, maybe for storing gas?

The group was shut down after about a year, after reports of gunfire and military drills. (An art professor later bought the land to use as a commune for artists, until it was gutted by fire in the 70's.) It was a fantastic hike, more interesting than most. Also, it reminded me of hiking in the Colorado mountains, except that every so often we'd feel a sea breeze, and catch a view of the beach between the hills. A few questions I have about the commune:

1. Were these people Nazi sympathizers, waiting for the liberation of America? Or were they simply survivalists, believing that WWII would eventually reach America, and hoping to avoid the chaos?

2. Were they trying to fly under the radar, or were they open about their plans? The big gate and the military drills would seem to give it away a bit.

3. How many people lived there? The canyon is totally dry except during spring, and many buildings were probably destroyed in fires, so it's hard to know if we're talking about a handful, as some histories suggest, or up to forty families, as others claim?