Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles, California: Wikis

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Rustic Canyon is a suburban residential neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on the west side of the city, encompassing the part of Santa Monica Canyon located within the city limits of Los Angeles, bordered approximately by Sunset Boulevard and Chautauqua Boulevard to the north and west, the city limits of Santa Monica, California along Adelaide Drive to the southeast, the Riviera Country Club to the northwest, and Pacific Coast Highway and Will Rogers State Beach to the south and southwest. The neighborhood borders the Pacific Palisades and Brentwood neighborhoods of Los Angeles and the city of Santa Monica, and is near to Malibu, thus being centrally located among the affluent northern coastal portions of the west Los Angeles area, but is significantly and distinctly isolated by its natural geography. The neighborhood lies in a heavily wooded canyon facing Santa Monica Bay drained by a creek that empties into the bay. Most of the homes in the neighborhood lie within the 90272 zip code encompassing Pacific Palisades, and list Pacific Palisades as their local mailing address. The neighborhood is comprised almost entirely of single-family homes, without significant multi-unit dwellings or commercial development. The only commercial development lies in the bottom portion of the canyon facing Pacific Coast Highway, consisting of a few bars, restaurants, and a gas station. The next closest commercial areas lie in Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica, each more than a mile away. Until very recently, as compared to many other local residential neighborhoods, such as Malibu, Brentwood, and Bel-Air, Rustic Canyon was composed of relatively understated homes lacking the ostentatious character of many homes in those areas. This is now changing as the post-war ranch homes are sold, torn down and developed with large homes selling in the multi-millions.

The proximity to much of the affluent and active west side of the city as well as its relative isolation and quiet has made the neighborhood one of the most desirable and expensive in the area for those who value privacy without the greater isolation of other nearby residential communities such as Malibu or the Palisades Highlands. Houses in the neighborhood sell for as much as $1000 per square foot. Several celebrities and other persons of local prominence, such as Debra Winger, Randy Newman, Brandon Tartikoff, Meryl Streep, John Travolta, Michael G. Fisher, Marc Norman, Steven Zaillian, Lee Marvin, and Jerry Buss are known to have once lived, owned or rented property in the neighborhood. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once owned a home near the neighborhood on Evans Road, above Sunset. At the same time, despite its location, the neighborhood has long enjoyed a relative anonymity and lack of outside attention or large-scale development, a situation that its local residents have long and ardently sought to preserve.

Contents

History

The first inhabitants of the region were indigenous peoples referred to by Spanish settlers as "Fernanderos", because they lived within the jurisdiction of the San Fernando mission. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, the region between Topanga Canyon and what is today Santa Monica was secured as grazing land for the prominent Sepulveda, Marquez and Reyes families. During the second-half of the 19th-century, the canyon and it was known as a camping area and rustic retreat near the beach hotels and resorts of nearby Santa Monica. Abbot Kinney, the developer best known for designing the nearby community of Venice to the south, established an experimental forestry station and planted eucalyptus trees, for which the canyon is still known today. In the late 19th century, the mouth of the canyon was considered as a site for what would become the Port of Los Angeles, but San Pedro was selected instead as the home of the port.

During the early 20th century, the Uplifters, an offshoot of the prominent Los Angeles Athletic Club, established a social club and ranch in the canyon, and built many ranch and cabin style houses as second homes for weekend and annual retreats. The Uplifters later developed a relationship with Will Rogers, whose ranch and estate lay on the other side of Sunset, and built a polo field in the canyon. During the Prohibition era, the Uplifters were known as a high-class drinking club, of which many prominent local politicians and wealthy residents of the city were members. The relative isolation of the area provided an ideal retreat for the wealthy and powerful members of the club, who lived primarily in the upscale areas (of the time) near downtown and in Pasadena, to indulge their appetites without undue notice. To this day, a sign reading "Uplifters Ranch" hangs over Latimer Road near the site of the Uplifters former clubhouse. Following the Depression, the club began to sell off the homes and other holdings in the area, and finally disbanded in 1947. The clubhouse and ranch and their appointments, including a swimming pool, baseball diamond and tennis courts were donated to the city in the early 1950s and developed into the Rustic Canyon Recreation Center and park. Perhaps following on the Uplifters' example, the neighborhood has long been known as a home for many of a bohemian leaning desiring privacy along with relative convenience.

Murphy Ranch

Contained in Rustic Canyon are the ruins of a former Nazi sympathizer compound known as Murphy Ranch.[1]

The mansions of Hollywood elite sit in splendor atop the ridges of the canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. But far below, on its secluded and woodsy floor, stand the burned-out and graffiti-scarred remains of concrete and steel structures, underground tunnels and stairways leading from the top of the canyon to the bottom.

Wrapped in canyon lore, the remnants are believed by one local historian to be those of a small, short-lived colony of Nazis. Although no one can say with certainty who lived there or what they did, Randy Young, a former commercial photographer turned book publisher, said his research indicates that it could have been home to up to 40 local Nazis from about 1933 to 1945.[2]

"It's extremely difficult to connect all the dots; too many have been erased," said Young, who has studied local history. He learned about the ranch while growing up in Rustic Canyon. His mother, Betty Lou Young, included the Nazi theory in her 1975 book on the history of the canyon.

Young continued his mother's research into the enclave, relying heavily on decades of oral histories, architectural plans, documents and letters to come to his conclusion that it was a Nazi colony. The strongest links, he said, come from the oral histories of canyon residents who told him that armed guards patrolled the canyon dressed in the uniform worn by Silver Shirts, a paramilitary group modeled after Hitler's brownshirts.

Also, Young interviewed the now-deceased John Vincent, a UCLA music professor who negotiated the sale of the property in 1948 and told him it had been a commune for Nazi sympathizers.

Yet most details about the colony's origins are untraceable, and parts of the story have taken on characteristics of a legend.

Currently the floor of upper Rustic Canyon is a popular hiking parkland owned by the city of Los Angeles. Backing up against Topanga State Park, over the years it has been home to a Boy Scout camp and an artists' colony.

Behind the locked and rusted wrought-iron entrance gates and flagstone wall stand the traces of a small community that had the capacity to grow its own food, generate its own electricity and dam its own water to cut itself off from the rest of California.

A debris-filled concrete water tank, twice as big as a typical swimming pool, was used to store water from a creek that runs through the canyon. A dirt roadway from the entrance leads down the canyon to the charred and twisted steel remains of a garage and workshop with second-story living quarters. A power station with foot-thick walls shared space with a bomb shelter. Up and down the length of the canyon rise eight crumbling, narrow stairways of at least 500 steps each.

According to Los Angeles County records, a Jessie M. Murphy purchased the 50-acre parcel in Rustic Canyon in 1933. That's how the place came to be known as Murphy Ranch.

Young suspects that Murphy was a front name used by the Nazi group to buy the property. There are no other records of Murphy, nor does the name surface in stories passed along by old-time canyon residents, Young said.

A man known through oral histories only as "Herr Schmidt" supposedly ruled the place and claimed to possess metaphysical powers. He purportedly used the ranch to introduce his Nazi-inspired political philosophy.

Gloria Ricci Lothrop, a Cal State Northridge emeritus professor of California history, who is familiar with Young's book and the theory that the canyon was a onetime Nazi colony, said the idea was not farfetched: "Given the degree of activity among Nazi sympathizers in Southern California, such an enterprise would not be so surprising."

For example, she said, one group was called Friends of the New Germany. Another was a local chapter of the Silver Shirts. The group operated in 22 states, numbering between 15,000 and 50,000 members, with Southland chapters in Baldwin Park, Huntington Park, Inglewood, Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The groups considered Southern California, especially Hollywood, paramount in their campaign against Jews. Propaganda was distributed nationwide from L.A. In 1934, a congressional subcommittee investigation in L.A. examined the pro-Nazi movement.

"This place fit the mold perfectly, secluded away from civilization," Young said.

The man known as Herr Schmidt apparently attracted a wealthy couple to his colony. The couple lived at Murphy Ranch and bankrolled its construction, paying millions for architectural plans, buildings and landscaping.

In 1934, architect Welton Becket -- who would later design the Capitol Records building and the Music Center -- was hired to design a small stone house and several outer buildings on the ranch. The name of his supposed client, Jessie Murphy, appeared on all his drawings, according to Young.

The hillsides were terraced with 3,000 nut, citrus, fruit and olive trees, and fitted with water pipes, sprinklers and an elaborate greenhouse. A high barbed-wire fence discouraged intruders.

Young's research led him to Will Rogers' archives, where he found a letter written by Rogers' attorney demanding that the couple stop building a series of dams and culverts to divert the creek. No other letters on the topic appear in the files.

In 1938, a Rustic Canyon resident, novelist Lewis Browne, an English-born Jew and outspoken critic of the Nazis, found that vandals had smeared a 4-foot white swastika on his door.

Browne said he had received several threatening letters and crank notes before the swastika appeared.

By 1941, plans were underway for a four-story, 22-bedroom mansion, with five libraries and several dining rooms, designed by architect Paul Williams.

But the blueprints never made it off the drawing board. "I think it's rather ironic that they went to a black architect," Young said. Williams was "only one of a few architects at the time who could design something on that grand of a scale," he said.

On Dec. 8, 1941, a day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, law enforcement officials stormed the compound and made some arrests, according to the oral histories. But Young could find no other details about the event.

At the time, many German American detainees were taken to makeshift camps at Terminal Island and La Tuna Canyon in Sun Valley, where they were interrogated before being sent to out-of-state barracks-like facilities under military guard, according to a paper written by Lothrop titled "Southern California and the Rise of the New Germany."

In 1948 the couple sold the place to the Huntington Hartford Foundation, which combined it with adjacent property and formed an artists' colony. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and scholar Mark Van Doren, artist Andrew Wyeth and writer Christopher Isherwood lived and worked there.

The city of Los Angeles bought the property in 1973.

Upper Rustic Canyon can be reached by a two-mile hike from Will Rogers State Park in Pacific Palisades or down Sullivan Fire Road off Casale Road.

Geography and climate

The canyon is the southernmost of the series of well-known beach-facing canyons which cut the Santa Monica Mountains as they run through Pacific Palisades and Malibu. A stream, one of the few in the area not cemented into a storm channel, runs through the canyon towards the bay. The area is heavily wooded and lush with vegetation, including oak, sycamore and eucalyptus trees and California's southernmost stand of sequoia redwoods. The canyon's geography makes it home to a significant microclimate. It is significantly cooler and more moist than almost any other part of Los Angeles. Periods of coastal fog are common year-round, and lows in January drop below 35°F. Summer highs rarely exceed 80°F. Due to its cool climate, vegetation, good drainage, and the fact that it is surrounded by urban development, the canyon is much less threatened by the wildfires and floods that commonly strike other Santa Monica mountains communities.

Emergency services

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Police service

Los Angeles Police Department operates the West Los Angeles Community Police Station at 1663 Butler Avenue, 99025, serving the neighborhood [1].

Real Estate development and legal disputes

Owing to its status as a relative oasis of quiet and seclusion conveniently close to the bustling activity and commerce of Los Angeles' west side, its limited development amid the very active local real estate market, and the desire of many of its residents to maintain its character, Rustic Canyon has long been a site of conflict between real estate developers and local residents. Local legends from the 1930s tell of residents staging displays of chasing each other with kitchen knives down the street to scare away real-estate agents. In more recent times, such conflicts have resulted in long-standing legal battles. As compared with many other communities, the wealthy and prominent residents of the neighborhood have demonstrated both the budgets and access to the legal system necessary to block unwanted development. During the 1980s, Steve Tisch, a film producer and heir to the Loews hotel fortune, fought a five-year battle against local residents to extend his property onto a public road, eventually losing the case. Since 2001, a long-running and complicated legal battle between a developer and local residents near the entrance to the Canyon from Sunset at Brooktree and Greentree Roads has raised allegations of corruption within the city of Los Angeles' Building and Safety Department. As of 2006, the head of that department may be tried for contempt of court for failing to adhere to a judge's order, since confirmed by an appellate court, against approving development in contradiction of local building codes. In September 2007 a judge ruled that the house of Vickey and Mehr Beglari at 909 Greentree Rd. is 14 ft. closer to the street curb and taller than permitted by city law. If the city enforces the ruling, the 8,550-sq.-ft. house will likely have to be destroyed. [2]. Even though the occupancy permit was ruled not properly granted, the Beglari's are still fighting to maintain their non-compliant home and scheduled further hearings with the LA City Zoning Administration to obtain another waiver. [3] Later in 2009 L.A. City Associate Zoning Administrator Patricia Brown denied the request for a variance to avoid lopping off 14 feet of the two-story home. The Beglaris have decided to appeal Brown's decision, and an appeal hearing before the West L.A. Area Planning Commission was set. If the latest appeal with the city fails, Rosenfeld (a plaintiff) said, 'It is difficult to see what additional avenues they can pursue short of modifying the building.' [4]

References

External links


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