The Trotsky Compound 1940

Trotsky Compound Map 1940. Illustration by Keith Melton

(map may not be rigorously to scale)
Keith Melton made the map for an exhibit at the Spy Museum in Wash D.C. and gave me permission to use it. Melton also tracked down Trotsky memorabilia such as the murder weapon and donated them to the museum

Henry's notes he made a few years after leaving compound

Note - Henry has his North and South mixed up. The tall tower in the NorthEast (see map) was part of the compound when Trotsky bought it. Henry calls it a 3-story stucco tower. The main tower in the SouthEast is the one the guards used that overlooked the garage entrance. It was built after the purchase. From there the guard could look straight down at the metal screen door exiting the garage and open it with an electrical button relay. That was added after the May 24 attack because it required the cooperation of two guards to admit entrance, but also required permission from the guard in the tower to leave.

(photocopy of notes at bottom of page)

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

Old Man - Trotsky

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 lower part of the old tower in the foreground and the new tower recently added in the background.

The Trotsky compound in 1940 from the Northwest side.

Henry had a stereoscopic camera, "ancient" he wrote. He had to surrender negatives at the border when he re-entered the United States and this is one of the few negatives that survived.

The new raised part of the wall is white. The area nearest, though encased in the original wall, was not part of the compound. It had a neighbor's house on it. The large tower is to the left at the far side. Calle Morelos does not even appear to be a path. Beyond is what looks like corn. After the May 24 attack, guards were reluctant to leave the compound to rescue the police tied up outside because they were afraid the attackers might be hiding in the cornfield. The foreground drainage ditch may have been in preparation for sewer tile that later pictures show being installed. The Rio Churubusco to the left out of frame was barely more than a stream. The dirt road in foreground is today Avenida Rio Churubusco. Avenida Viena on the south side of the compound was the approach, Henry writes. It also was unpaved. The May 24 attackers stole both cars of the compound when leaving and left one stuck in the mud a few blocks away.

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 from the guard tower at night lightening would light up the mountains. The compound today is surrounded by city and the mountains I assume 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.
View from the main guard tower.

Perhaps Henry's most interesting photo - taken from the vantage point of the main guard 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 back to Mexico City. You would be looking at his headlights. 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. In Henry's guard journal, he says Aug 6 is the day he mounted the plaque. Harte was on duty the night of May 24 and 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.

This photo possibly taken days before the assassination. It's in the same format as others that show Jake Cooper who left a few days after the murder.

The opposite view from inside the locked gate looking up at the guard tower

Natalia Trotsky in the yard

Two consecutive prints. 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 in 1959.
Present day (2018) Google Streetview shows the location of the garage. The only entrance to the compound was thru the man door cut into the larger vehicle door..

Link to Trotsky compound Google StreetView

Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky Google maps - thousands of tourist photos available here

Some modern photos

Source - The Velvet Rocket - Leon Trotsky's Home in Mexico City, 2014 Feb 3