This past weekend, brave fire-fighters and emergency service personnel in California were tasked with putting a stop to one of the most devastating wildfires in state history. As I write this piece, they are undergoing the agonizing task of scouring the wreckage for bodies. People have lost their loved ones and their homes. The last thing in the world people want to think about is movies.
That said, the fire also destroyed an important piece of Hollywood history: the Paramount Ranch. The Santa Monica Mountains National Park Service revealed via their Twitter account that the fire had swept through the historic filming location, and none of it escaped the flames. This effectively brings an end to a dynasty of film and television that has been around for close to a century.
We are sorry to share the news that the #WoolseyFire has burned Western Town at #ParamountRanch in Agoura. We do not have any details or photos, but it is our understanding that the structures have burned. This area is an active part of the incident and we cannot access it. pic.twitter.com/oC4n7KR8ZT
— Santa Monica Mtns (@SantaMonicaMtns) November 9, 2018
The Ranch was conceived in 1927 when Paramount Pictures purchased 2,700 acres of the old Rancho Las Virgenes for shooting movies. For over 90 years, some of Hollywood’s finest have honed their craft there, and the landscape the location provided allowed them to create a diverse array of cinematic worlds. Colonial Massachusetts was brought to life in The Maid of Salem. Ancient China was recreated in The Adventures Of Marco Polo. The Sign of the Cross transported viewers to Emperor Nero’s Rome. Death Race 2000 showed us a dystopian future. I could go on. Over the decades, the Ranch has been a premier destination for shooting movies and shows based in a variety of time periods, featuring expansive outdoor backdrops and some stunning natural scenery.
However, when most of us think of the Ranch, the Old West comes to mind. The western has captured Hollywood’s imagination since as far back as the dawn of film, and the Ranch’s Western Town played a big part in bringing many of these tales of frontier adventure to life. If you’ve seen any western towns in movies or television shows throughout the years, it’s highly likely they were shot in Western Town.
Built in 1953 after wealthy western fan William Hertz purchased the land, Western Town has posed as Arizona, Kansas, and just about any other state where cowboys roamed. Some of the best Old West movies and TV shows were filmed there, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Bonanza, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Deadwood, and Bone Tomahawk. Recently, HBO’s Westworld used Western Town for the scenes set in Main Street. My personal favorite is The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., a pulpy sci-fi crossover yarn starring Bruce Campbell as the titular bounty hunter. The thought of future filmmakers not being able to add to this rich lineage is a gut-punch, and it’s heartbreaking to know that those beautiful memories of some of our favorite movies and shows are now a smoldering heap of ash.
But this devastating news isn’t just a major loss for the film industry. Since the National Park Service purchased a portion of the land in 1980, the Ranch and its surrounding area has been a popular destination for hikers and locals who simply want to appreciate the beautiful scenery. The area is also popular destination for wildlife sightings, and visitors have been known to spot red-tailed hawks, acorn woodpeckers, blue heron and deer on a good day. There was more to do here than sneak a peak at the movies or TV shows that were in production at the time.
Of course, for most of the FSR staff and readership, we’ll always always associate the location with movies and shows. And just because it’s gone, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate its legacy. There’s no denying that this is a devastating loss to both entertainment and California’s cultural history. However, instead of mourning too much, maybe we could revisit some of its many blasts from the past and honor its memory legacy that way? The Ranch existed to bring joy to this world, and we should forever enjoy the countless treats that exist because of it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch some old episodes of Gunsmoke and remember the good times.
Sign of the Cross (1932)
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
Bone Tomahawk (2015)