As many of you probably know, back in the classic Hollywood era, most films were filmed either on the studio lot or in the surrounding areas. Location shooting, which dominates today, was a lot more rare, although there are notable instances in during the 1930s and 40s (think John Ford and Monument Valley). The landscapes around Los Angeles became Western locales or other exotic locations when studios needed exterior locations. Many of the studios owned land specifically for this purpose, known as “movie ranches.” Although there are still remnants of these properties still in the Los Angeles area, many of them have been developed, or exist as private property that is closed off to visitors. One exception is Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills.
A section of what used to be the Paramount Ranch land still exists as part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. According to the park website, 2,700 acres of land was purchased by the studio in 1927 for their use on films. Stars like Gary Cooper and Joel McCrea walked the grounds in many productions, most of them B-movies. The Ranch has titles like Wells Fargo and Sullivan’s Travels to its credits.
I had to leave my apartment for maintenance for a few hours the other day, and was trying to figure out what I could do for that time span with the dog in tow. I decided to head out to the Ranch and do a hike and check out the Western Town set that still stands on the property. The whole area is quite pretty, a welcome difference from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. It’s hilly terrain, but there are wide expanses of meadows and lots of large tree cover. It’s easy to see how the location could’ve been used for various landscapes.
The Western Town is not the original sets from the 1920s. When Paramount sold the Ranch in the early 1950s, dentist and Western fan William Hertz bought a section of the property. He and his son erected the town sets which exist today. The new structures brought in television crews for The Cisco Kid and Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, the Ranch property passed through several hands before the National Park Service purchased a 750 acre section in 1980. The most popular recent production that used the sets was Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman during the 1990s.
If you’re ever in the area, I would definitely recommend going. It’s a lot of fun to explore the town, and the surrounding area is really quiet and beautiful. The trail I hiked was relatively flat, so it was pretty accessible if you want to explore a little. Overall it was a great way to spend the afternoon!