When The Valley Was Cold

The Nike Family: Hercules, Ajax and Zeus
The Nike Family: Hercules, Ajax and Zeus

From 1954 to 1974 these rockets were parked in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, armed and ready to launch, as part of our deterrent capability against Soviet attack.

Ready to launch as soon as the bombers crossed into radar range. On 24/7 alert for two decades running.

Where was this, you say? Where exactly?

The Launchpad
The Launchpad

Right here, between the Japanese Tea Garden and the Orange Line bus stop. There? Really?

This nondescript concrete pad we’ve driven past so many times is the former LA-96 Battery. The opening volley of WWIII was slated to start a short bike ride from my house.

The vertical rectangles were once openings through which hydraulic elevators raised the missiles from their underground bunker.  A single launcher site normally held twelve missiles. In case of a prolonged attack, they were transferred to the surface one at a time, pushed along rails. Launch crews lived in catacombs, Dr. Stangelove-style, in shifts, alongside stores of distilled water and canned food should things go badly and the Russian bombers evade our defenses.

The Radar Station
The Radar Station

The other half of the Battery was up on San Vicente Peak, off Mulholland. Radar beacons here swept the horizon perpetually, seeking the first blips on the monitor, moving at supersonic speed.



I imagine the people who worked the radar site had a different memory of the Cold War than the guys down in the launch bunker.  My father in his youth spent two years as a Russian translator posted to a radar station in a ski village near the East German border.  The time of his life, he always claimed, despite being a lifelong anti-war leftist.  I doubt he would say the same had he been given submarine duty.

4 thoughts on “When The Valley Was Cold”

  1. It may be worth noting that the Nike Hercules was typically equipped with a 20kt nuclear warhead. Meaning, yes, a dozen nukes sitting in a hole in the ground at the corner of Victory and Woodley. On a hair trigger. Guarded by a handful of soldiers and some German shepherds. Apartment buildings a hundred yards away. Over a dozen of these bases surrounded Los Angeles, the center of the U.S. aircraft and defense industries. True story. No big deal.

  2. So strange how something so cataclysmic can just sit there near the sewage treatment plant, behind the bus stop, next to some nobody’s morning jog.

  3. The Old Nike Missile Site Trail, we’ve hiked up there. It has lower foot traffic than Fryman Canyon and expansive views of the SFV.

    1. Yeah, it’s a great hike. You can also meander beyond, down into Mandeville Canyon or on the other side into the old Murphy Ranch.

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