The Trotsky Compound in 1940

Henry wrote these notes about the physical appearance of the Trotsky compound sometime after leaving Mexico.

(some of these photos 1920 pixels wide.)

 

appearance of place - typically Mexican, not movie version
approach - AV. Viena, mud or dust
Rio Churubusco - women washing
adobe huts foundation washed away
roofs of tin, straw or boards

exterior - wall varying 15-25 ft height.
old 3 story stucco tower at SE corner of rectangle,
2 new towers rising above wall at opposite corners -
and only entrance - steel double (small door) door
at corner opposite main tower

interior, another steel door into the garage and
smaller grilled door into garden.
guard with drawn gun opens first door,
guard in tower pushes button to open 2nd into garden.

walls strung with wire and lights,
trees and shrubs trimmed close and high to afford good view.
Large popote, ash, 4 red cedars, fig, pear, apple and
largest by far, a Eucalyptus fully 90 ft high and 4 ft at base

flowering shrubs, creepers, vines, cactus, lirios in wild profusion.

behind garage the 19 rabbit hutches and farther still,
continuing to farther wall, the hen house with 4 dozen chickens.

 

House itself a section of 4 one story rooms.
originally servant quarters built into South Wall -
the massive tower in S.E. corner, base used as kitchen and
house proper, dining room and library (2 huge rooms)
with L.D.'s quarters, the study, bath and 2 bedrooms forming a Tee
The guards - Harold Robins
Joe Hansen
Charles Cornell
Walter O'Rourke (real name Ketley)
Otto Schussler (party name Fisher)
Grandizo Munis
Jake Cooper

scarcity of essentials

routine - work
training
recreation

Old Man - Trotsky

 

Henry has his North and South mixed up. He also inaccurately refers to the original tower as the main tower. Its the larger tower but the main tower the guards used was the new one that overlooked the garage entrance. The original tower Henry calls a 3-story stucco tower (it is much taller than the guard's 2-story quarters). It was part of the compound when Trotsky bought it. It is in the NE corner. The main tower that was added after Trotsky bought the compound is in the SE corner. From there the guard could look down straight at the door from the garage and open that screen door with an electrical button relay. Keith Melton (visit the Spy Museum in Wash D.C. to see his Trotsky memorabilia including the piolet) has made a map. Melton refers to the old tower as 2-story.

 

 

photo from Isaac Don Levine "Mind of an Assassin", 1959. The negative is flipped in book. I have mirrored it correctly. This is after Trotsky bought the house, we see the police casita, but before the new tower is built.
From the opposite side, Henry had a very small 1 x 1.5 print. It shows the old tower in the foreground and the new tower just recently added in the background.

 

The Trotsky compound in 1940 from the Northwest side. The new raised part of the wall is white. The area nearest, though encased in the original wall, was not part of the compound. The original property was probably divided. The large tower is to the left at the far side. I dont know if that ditch is the "river", or if the river is to the left out of frame. I read one book, a very good book, but the author evidently was looking at a map said the compound was protected on one side by a river. That is the Churubusco River which today is a road. Henry had a stereoscopic camera, "ancient" he wrote. I have several prints from that camera but this is one of the few negatives. He had to surrender negatives at customs when he re-entered the United States. In the background are the mountains Popocatepetl (right) and Ixtacuihatl (left), the Sleeping Lady. Her head is to the left. Henry writes in his journal that lightening would light up the mountains at night that he could see from the guard tower. The compound today is surrounded by city. I assume the mountains are no longer visible. The large tree, largest by far, Henry says, a Eucalyptus fully 90 feet high and 4 feet diameter at the base. Its stump is still there today.
to get the stereo effect stare loosely, let eyes relax until the two images combine between the two.

 

Two prints from same negative. North side of compound 1940, large tower in middle, new smaller tower near side, main tower is at far side, not visible or just barely visible. Women can be seen to the left sitting in the shade looking at henry taking the photograph. In the field beyond you can see culvert pipe ready to be laid.

 

In 1958 Henry revisited the compound and took these photos. This one showing the south side shows the old entrance that was blocked up. This is not the garage entrance used since 1938 or so which is out of frame to the left. main tower in forefront. Optico Scientifico lettering barely visible on large tower pre-dates Trotsky. The giant Eucalyptus is still standing.
Present day Google Streetview shows us the location of the garage. The only entrance to the compound was thru the man door cut into the larger vehicle door..    
   

 

This is the view from the main tower. The long building is the garage. The wall stands up behind it. The guard in the garage would open the garage door to the visitor. He would signal the guard in the tower, who would open the metal gate with a button electrically connected to a relay, allowing in the visitor. The visitor cannot get out of the compound except by the guard in the tower releasing the screen door. Ramon Mercador's only chance to kill Trotsky and get out of the compound was to do it silently and walk out as if nothing had happened, waving goodbye to the guard in the tower. On Aug 20, 1940 Ramon Mercador parked next to the trees, turning his car towards the tower, pointing back to Mexico City. I believe this photo was taken before the assassination. The sign visible to the right of the door is the plaque honoring the guard Robert Sheldon Harte who was killed after the May 24th raid. Harte let the gunmen into the compound. The relay on the gate was installed later to require the cooperation of two guards to allow entry. Credit Keith Melton of the Spy Museum in Wash DC for pointing this out.

 

The opposite view from inside the locked gate looking up at the guard tower. That looks like Natalia Trotsky in the yard. Henry sent these photos home, originals are 1.5" x 2.5". He wrote notes on the back. Some of the photos have Jake Cooper in them, who left the compound just a few days after Trotsky was killed. Henry became a guard on July 14, 1940, making these photos likely taken less than 4 weeks before Trotsky's murder.