On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, ringing in over a decade of fascist rule in his country and for much of Europe. William Dudley Pelley, seen above in a wanted poster from 1939, used that as an opportunity to start a fascism movement in the United States. That same day, Pelley announced the formation of the Silver Legion of America, a fascist-friendly organization based in the United States. For the rest of the decade and into the next, Pelley would criss-cross the United States recruiting people into his organization. The group, colloquially called the “Silver Shirts” (a reference to Nazi Brownshirts), adopted many of the Nazis’ bigoted ways, including but not limited to promoting white supremacy and anti-Semitism.
And then they decided to build Hitler a castle just outside Hollywood.
In 1935, using Nazi-given money, Silver Shirt members Norman and Winona Stephens, under the pseudonym “Jessie Murphy,” purchased 55 acres of land in the Los Angeles hills from American celebrity Will Rogers. The Silver Shirts then used that land to build a palace for Hitler (seen below, years and layers of graffiti later), intended to be the Fuhrer’s home away from home — or, perhaps more accurately, a West Coast, Nazi-version of the White House. According to the Daily Mail, Hitler intended to use the complex as his hub of operations for Nazi-controlled North America – assuming his brand of fascism would take over the world, including the United States.
Known as the “Murphy Ranch,” the building, per the Mary Sue, was both stylish and practical. The self-sufficient complex had its own “diesel power plant, 375,000 gallon concrete water tank, giant meat locker, 22 bedrooms and [. . .] a bomb shelter,” and a planned “five libraries, a swimming pool, several dining rooms, and a gymnasium.” At the cost of $4 million (about $65 million in today’s dollars), the Fuhrer would be able to live like the king he aspired to be.
But with war underway — even though the U.S. had not yet joined it — the Silver Shirts were hardly the most welcome people in America, and for good reason. Many of them were charged with treason and sedition, and the secluded palatial bunker made for a great hiding place. But on December 8, 1941 — the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor — U.S. authorities raided the compound. The fifty or so Silver Shirts who lived there were arrested, and Hitler thankfully never made it to town.
As of March, 2012, the Murphy Ranch still stood. But that would likely be temporary. According to The Week, the Los Angeles authorities intend to bulldoze the complex and turn the area into picnic area for people hiking in the hills.
Bonus fact: Pelley’s attempts to bring fascism to American were not limited to cockamamie schemes like building palaces for self-declared despots. He had plenty of other cockamamie ideas as well. One notable one: In 1936, he founded the Christian Party, the political wing of the Silver Shirts, and ran for President of the United States under that banner, in an explicit effort to bring fascism to America via the ballot box. He failed miserably. He only managed to get on the ballot in one state, Washington, and earned fewer than 2,000 of the over 650,000 votes cast. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who easily won re-election (he gathered over 60% of the popular vote nationwide and won all but two states), earned over 450,000 votes in Washington state alone.
From the Archives: Hitler, One Night Only: What if you tried to make Hitler’s life into a sitcom? It’s been tried.
Related: “William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism And the Occult,” by Scott Beekman. The only apparent biography of his life, five stars but on only one review. The cover has a picture of him in his Silver Shirts uniform.
Image of Murphy Ranch by kode_name on Flickr (original here), and used under a Creative Commons license.