Los Angeles’s Cold War past finds sanctuary atop the Santa Monica Mountains

DSC08917Hidden in the brush and chaparral of the Santa Monica Mountains, at the end of what we used to call “dirt Mulholland” was a gem of a party spot for kids, like me, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Back in the 80’s this forgotten remnant of the Cold War was simply “the Tower” to us. It was abandoned, and had no identifying markings. It was less than a safe place to hang out, but we were 16 years old, and hell it was a wonderful  a place to get your party on with the most spectacular views of Los Angeles.

At that time, there were no lights, you had to climb a treacherous and less than sturdy set of stairs to reach the summit, and once there you had to make sure you didn’t  fall right through the gaping wide open hole in the middle of the tower that would have definitely resulted in death or serious injury. Good times….!

On any given weekend night the Tower was an amazing place to hang out. Folks would come up with guitars, or boom boxes. New friends were made. Relationships were consummated. It was our little secret, we vagrants of the Valley. It was undiscovered Los Angeles.

DSC08877A history buff, I had always speculated that this was a leftover anti-aircraft site from World War 2. It had all the earmarks. Back in the early days of World War 2, California was bracing for an invasion from the west so this was not too much of a stretch that this tower was built to spot and shoot down Japanese Zeros as they made their passes over Los Angeles, as they did over Pearl Harbor.

Years later, I began to do some research about this tower of my youth and discovered that the purpose of this long abandoned military installation held an even deeper and darker history. This tower, along with hundreds of others constructed in the late 1950’s and 1960’s were Nike/Ajax missile sites. These were not mere machine gun nests from the 40’s, but rather fully nuclear anti aircraft defense systems meant to shoot Soviet bombers from the sky before they could deliver their nuclear payloads on our cities.

Los Angeles had one of the most extensive Nike/Ajax systems in the country since it was the heart of the countries aerospace industry. Few remember, but back in the war days and well into the Cold War, Los Angeles was an aerospace town. L.A’s aerospace targets were of high value to the Soviet Union, and to be sure Los Angeles would have been one of very first targets struck in an all out Nuclear War.

DSC08875Our City had 16 active Nike/Ajax batteries ringing the L.A area from Malibu down to San Pedro. My classmates at Birmingham High School might find it fascinating that before our school was the inspiration for “Valley Girl” a battery of nuclear tipped missiles sat across the street ready to fire on a hair trigger from a base that became a National Guard base in later years.

The San Fernando Valley had several active Nike sites. “The Tower” was only one part of the intricate system. The Tower itself was not a missile battery but was the forward radar site that would alert the missile battery at the Birmingham Army Hospital that inbound targets were spotted from its vantage point atop the Santa Monica Mountains.

The missiles became obsolete in the 1960s as they were designed to shoot down nuclear bombers and could not defend against ICBM’s and the bases were gradually shut down and deactivated, though some of the sites, including the Birmingham site remained active well into the 1970’s. Today there are veryThe missiles became obsolete in the 1960s as they were designed to shoot down nuclear bombers and could not defend against ICBM’s and the bases were gradually shut down and deactivated, though some of the sites, including the Birmingham site remained active well into the 1970’s. Today there are very few remnants of these relics of the Cold War. Most all have been obliterated.

Thanks to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory, the Nike/Ajax missile site has been preserved and turned into a park. It is a meeting point for several trail heads leading out in the Santa Monica Mountains for hikers, and bikers to enjoy. Much care has been put into educating people about our not so distant nuclear past and is one of those rare instances where Los Angeles has not paved over it’s own history to put up a shopping mall.

The site can be easily reached by car from the Valley side of the hill or by foot if you want to make the long hike from Mandeville Canyon on the West Side. More information and directions can be found on the Santa Monica Mountain Conservatory’s website.

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few remnants of these relics of the Cold War. Most all have been obliterated.

Thanks to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory, the Nike/Ajax missile site has been preserved and turned into a park. It is a meeting point for several trail heads leading out in the Santa Monica Mountains for hikers, and bikers to enjoy. Much care has been put into educating people about our not so distant nuclear past and is one of those rare instances where Los Angeles has not paved over it’s own history to put up a shopping mall.

The site can be easily reached by car from the Valley side of the hill or by foot if you want to make the long hike from Mandeville Canyon on the West Side. More information and directions can be found on the Santa Monica Mountain Conservatory’s website.

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Brian Michaels

About Brian Michaels

Brian Michaels is grew up in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles in the glory days of the late 1960s and 70s. Only a stone's throw from the Sunset Strip, Michaels had an early education in rock music. Michaels attended his first punk rock show at the age of 14 at the Whiskey a Go Go and has been going strong ever since. Brian is a defense attorney by profession but adds photography and writing to a list of his many passions outside of the his job. Brian can be found on the web at www.exlaprosecutor.com.
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6 Responses to Los Angeles’s Cold War past finds sanctuary atop the Santa Monica Mountains

  1. Chris Burko says:

    Wow, I used to also party at ” The Tower” back in the 1980s. I remember it being really treacherous, with a large hole on the top of the platform that you could literally fall through if you weren’t careful. A lot of fun times there. Thanks for posting!

  2. You and me both. Birmingham High 83. Lots of good times up there.

  3. Anthony says:

    Where exactly is it

  4. Brian Michaels Brian says:

    Top of Hayvenhurst above Encino

  5. Bernt says:

    I loved that spot for me 1986/1990 thanks for the post! Your awesome!

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