The Start of the Movie Ranches
|Old Tucson Studios, Photo Courtesy James G. Howes|
The studios had a difficult time recreating battle scenes and other large scale shooting on their back lots and sound stages therefore the outdoor movie ranch solved the problem. The mountains of southern California also helped with the natural setting the producers needed and wanted.
Most Popular Movie Ranch Locations
The most popular and best suited western movie locations were in California, Arizona and Nevada. For the movie to have more realism and a larger scope the productions were often filmed "on location". This meant that the production crew which might be substantial had to work out of town.That fact in a way brought upon an entirely new problem because shooting on location cost more money, usually much more money, and movie production after all is a business. A movie studio needed to keep expenses in check.The labor unions required extra pay for out of town work. On top of this the studios had the costs of housing the production staff.
|Courtesy of PKM, CC Share-Alike 3.0|
The photo left shows a portion of the Old Santa Susana Stage Route in the area of the old movie ranches north of LA. Most of the movie ranches were close to Los Angeles, usually within about 30 miles and north of the city in the Simi Hills. The relatively short distance away from Los Angeles and the studio lots also helped solve the out of town union wage concern.
After the end of World War Two and the explosive growth of many U.S. cities, the property value around a city like Los Angeles increased greatly. The property acquired by the movie studios in the 1930's was eventually sold off. In most cases they turned into subdivisions and in others they ended up as regional parks. Some of these parks are still used from time to time for movie production.
An interesting short story related to this subject is Hollywood on Route 66.
The California Movie Ranch
The most popular southern California movie ranch was probably the Iverson Movie Ranch located about where the San Fernando Valley meets the Simi Valley north of Los Angeles above Chatsworth, CA.
About one year before William Mulholland built an aqueduct to bring water to Los Angeles a movie studio representative approached the Iverson's about using their land for movie shooting. The Iverson's struck movie gold.
The old western movies were in vogue. The list of productions shot at the Iverson Ranch is almost unending. The ranch probably had more filming per square mile than any other land in the U.S. The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Stagecoach (1939), They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Carson City (1952), Frank and Jesse James (1948).
he rock where Clayton Moore reared his horse at the beginning of every Lone Ranger television episode is located at the Iverson Movie Ranch. The 1959 television series Bonanza spent their first two years shooting at Iverson.
Eventually the studios were shooting in other locations and the western movie genre was in decline. Iverson was the location for many old west classic movies and television shows. In 1970 much of the ranch was destroyed by a California wildfire and in the 1980's the ranch was eventually sold off. It wasn't long after that the ranch land was subdivided and roads put in. The other much used movie ranch north of Los Angeles was the Spahn Ranch which like the Iverson faded into old west history. Today the site of the old Spahn Ranch which was also destroyed by a 1970 wildfire is part of the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park.
The Old Tucson Studios
Eaves Movie Ranch
Another popular movie ranch is the Eaves Movie Ranch located about 15 miles south of Santa Fe New Mexico. Once part of a cattle ranch, the Eaves Movie Ranch started to lure Hollywood studios in 1962. Television advertising spots were shot at Eaves including some of the old Marlboro cigarette ads. The first big budget movie shot at the ranch was in 1969 with Cheyenne Social Club starring Jimmy Stuart and Henry Fonda. Gene Kelly of Singing in the Rain fame got together with J.W. Eaves and constructed a small western town. The Eaves Movie ranch is still used today for various television and movie productions. Part of the Russell Crow movie 3:10 To Yuma were shot at Eaves.
Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch
|Western star Tom Mix, circa 1919|
New Mexico is also home to the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch located about 8 miles south of Santa Fe.
Today it is a working cattle ranch and also used for movie/TV productions. It's first set was built in 1980 for the film Legend of the Lone Ranger. There is one movie town and two home sets. One unique thing about Bonanza Creek is that all buildings are four sided with electricity and running water. Somewhat different from the generic facade front used in much film shooting.
The Western Movie Genre
|Old West set, Universal Studios|
The years between the mid 1930's through the 1950's were probably the highpoint of the western genre and the time in which some of the greatest westerns were filmed. The western genre is funny in as much as when you think it has faded into the past, someone comes out and produces another one which ends up being well received by the viewing public. Back in 1969 that was the case with "True Grit" starring John Wayne. This very well received old west movie won John Wayne an Oscar for Best Actor and remained one of the best old west vintage movies.
If you have an opportunity to visit the Old Tucson Studios you may also want to add two additional stops to your southern Arizona trip planner. Tombstone and Bisbee are located from 80-100 miles southeast of Tucson and make terrific side trips. Both are fun and educational and fit well into a old western themed vacation.
(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)