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Top 10 Cities for Urban Exploration


Los Angeles

Hitler in L.A.? That's what Winona and Norman Stephens, California Nazi sympathizers, hoped would eventually happen when they built their ranch. Heinrich Hoffmann/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hitler in L.A.? That's what Winona and Norman Stephens, California Nazi sympathizers, hoped would eventually happen when they built their ranch. Heinrich Hoffmann/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Big draw: Murphy Ranch

In 1933, Hitler became chancellor, the Nazi party took over the German government, and Winona and Norman Stephens built a Nazi commune in Los Angeles.

Herr Fuhrer, they believed, would someday come to rule there. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, though, the place was emptied out, and its inhabitants were charged as Nazi sympathizers [source: Almendrala].

Now, the compound known as Murphy's Ranch, once a self-sustaining community that supplied its own power and water, stored its own food, and had its own bunkers just in case, is a vandalized shell of its former self [source: Almendrala]. It's accessible to the public, and people come to see what remains of a U.S.-based Nazi cult preparing for Germany's victory -- and, inexplicably, Hitler's reign from a ranch in L.A.

More to explore:

  • Griffith Park Zoo, founded in 1912, abandoned in the 1960s when construction of the larger Los Angeles Zoo was complete [source: Preuss].
  • Linda Vista Hospital, built in the early 1900s as a medical center for people injured building the new railroad, now abandoned and frightening enough to have been the filming location for a number of horror movies [source: Riggs].

Through almost all of this -- abandoned crypts, hospitals, forts and zoos, and orphanages -- runs the theme of neglect, and a resulting eeriness to which urban explorers seem irresistibly drawn. There's plenty of it to go around, with abandoned structures and towns and tunnel systems lying unnoticed all over the world, ripe for discovery and recording. All are accessible to those willing to risk fines, prison and death; quite a few are accessible to those who'd rather not.

Either way, the hidden world awaits.

For more information on urban exploration, check out the links below.

Author's Note: Top 10 Cities for Urban Exploration

Without a doubt, urban exploration is an intriguing undertaking, its motives often emotional, artful and of academic interest, its products often beautiful and revealing. And yet, the mentions of danger in this series are there for a reason: This intriguing practice is unsafe.

And often illegal, but many people will brush that off -- and really, what's a misdemeanor trespassing charge in the face of abandoned crypts and asylums? Bodily harm, though, is something different (I think), and my hope is that readers who are interested in urban exploring will also be interested in the physical risks involved. Death and injury in the course of exploring are not everyday occurrences, but neither are they so rare as to chalk them up to simple bad luck. Storm drains do flood unexpectedly. Unmaintained, century-old staircases do crumble. Open elevator shafts do disappear in dark, abandoned warehouses.

Do, then, keep in mind: There are many reports of urban-exploring deaths and near-misses. I just ran out of room.

Related Articles


  • Abandoned Berlin.(Oct. 15, 2012)
  • Action Squad: Minneapolis Urban Adventurers. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • Almendrala, Anna. "Hitler Bunker In Los Angeles: Murphy Ranch Reveals An Alternate Universe." The Huffington Post. March 19, 2012. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • Calhoun, Patricia. "Urban explorers still drawn to abandoned Gates factory despite tragic accidents." Westword. Feb. 14, 2011. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • Catacombs of Paris Museum.
  • Chalk, Titus and Jacob Henze. "The haunted sanatorium of Beelitz." ExBerliner. May 5, 2011. (Oct. 19, 2012)
  • Clark, Josh. "What are urban explorers?" HowStuffWorks. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • "Château Bijou." Forbidden Places. (Oct. 23, 2012)
  • The Christian Catacombs of Rome. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • Clift, Isabel. "Abandoned Berlin: 6 Secret Places to Explore." Hostel Bookers. April 23, 2012. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • Colette, Michele. "Exploring the Eerie Underworld of Belgium's Abandoned Crypts." Environmental Graffiti. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • Cooper, Rob. "Who said trainspotting was for anoraks?" The Daily Mail Online. Feb. 25, 2012. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • "CU's secret underground." The CU Independent. Oct. 27, 2010. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • DetroitUrbEx. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • "Digging Deep: NYC History, Right Beneath Our Feet: Columbia University Tunnels." Guest of a Guest. (Oct. 23, 2012)
  • "Fort Portalet." Forbidden Places. (Oct. 23, 2012)
  • "Forum of Nerva." Capitolium. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • "Forum of Nerva." Essays on Roman Architecture – University of Chicago. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • Hawkins, Ian. "Breaking Into Beelitz." A Year in Berlin. May 21, 2012. (Oct. 19, 2012)
  • Johnson, Kirk. "Denver Airport Saw the Future. It Didn't Work." The New York Times. Aug. 27, 2005. (Oct. 21, 2012)
  • Lam, Tina, et al. "A month after owner said he'd tear down Packard Plant, zero progress made." Detroit Free Press. March 28, 2012. (Oct. 21, 2012)
  • Maher, Jared Jacang. "DIA Conspiracy Theories Take Off." Westword. Aug. 30, 2007. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • "'Oliver Twist' Strand Union Workhouse gets listing." BBC News. March 14, 2011. (Oct. 22, 2012)
  • "The Post Office Railway." Silent UK. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • Preuss, Simone. "7 Creepiest Abandoned Zoos on Earth." Environmental Graffiti. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • Preuss, Simone. "Walking the Crumbing Corridors of Rome's Abandoned Orphanage." Environmental Graffiti. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • "Rare Look Inside an Abandoned Titan-1 Missile Silo Complex." TechEBlog. Feb. 5, 2011. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • Riggs, Ransom. "Linda Vista Revisited: East L.A.'s Abandoned Hospital." Mental Floss. July 7, 2009. (Oct. 24, 2012)
  • Ryan, JD. "Forgotten Places Photoblog: New York Hospital X". Green Mountain Daily. June 13, 2010. (Oct. 23, 2012)
  • Scraton, Paul. "Berlin's Olympic Village." Slow Travel Berlin. Sept. 7, 2012. (Oct. 19, 2012)
  • Steers, Stuart. "The DIA Underground." Westword. Jan. 17, 1996. (Oct. 15, 2012)
  • Tancock, Kat. "The World's 8 Creepiest Places: Paris Catacombs, France." MSN Canada: Travel. (Oct. 23, 2012)
  • Valsecchi, Maria Cristina. "What's Inside Rome's Ancient Catacombs?" National Geographic. (Oct. 24, 3012)


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