By CHAZ PLAGER
Often, they say that the truth is stranger than fiction. For examples of this, you need look no further than current events, like a global mass pandemic, or a billionaire winning the presidency, or a mass insurrection at the Capitol.
Yet even in spite of that, people are still surprised when something completely unexpected has been under their noses: in Encino, there’s a NIKE missile launch site.
And it is not a recent installation. This complex has existed for over half a decade, since the beginning of the Cold War.
To clarify, when I say, “Nike”, I am not implying that Nike, the shoe company, owns this missile site. The missile site is named “NIKE” after the Greek goddess of victory, which is also the inspiration for the shoe company’s name.
The NIKE-Ajax Missile Control Site LA-96 is located in San Vicente Mountain Park, three miles off the 405 Freeway in the hills between Brentwood and Van Nuys.
Active from 1956-68, the site existed as one of sixteen NIKE-Ajax sites over California. The sites were the first ever anti-aircraft defensive measures created.
If there was an airplane with a nuclear bomb flying overhead, the station would send a command to fire a missile from Sepulveda Basin at the oncoming plane, destroying it, and saving the United States from nuclear annihilation. Thankfully, that scenario never came to pass.
Even though the Cold War did not end until 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the sixteen sites were decommissioned by 1974, most likely because they had become outdated.
LA-96 is one of the few sites remaining intact: the rest were either destroyed and planted over, burnt down in a fire, or abandoned.
As of now, the site is a Cold War memorial, with signs explaining the site’s function during the war and how it was used. Likely, it was a more efficient use of budget to repurpose the building than demolish it like the rest of the sites.
Control Site LA-96 is a common rest stop for hikers in the area. But, looking into the site, I got curious. How many other sites were there, and are any still active?
I found that there were 12 similar sites in San Francisco, and even across the country, from Connecticut to Texas. Many were even built in Mexico, Japan, Norway and other US-aligned territories, all to defend against a threat, which never came.
I wouldn’t particularly call myself a military history buff, but I find the idea of something that was built for a scenario which never came, fascinating. I wonder what exists today that will be forgotten once the specific era it was built for is over.
Rideshare apps? Rentable bikes/scooters? Maybe even phones? But the difference between those and the NIKE sites is there is no memorial for digital data. If the things we have now disappear, how would anyone know they ever existed?
(Fun fact: In Greek mythology, Nike is the Winged Goddess of Victory. The Nike shoe “swoosh” logo was created in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a student at Portland State University. The logo is said to symbolize the wing of Nike.)