Most of it wasnt real.
So the almost total loss of the Paramount Ranchs Western Town to the Woolsey Fire doesnt have the same impact as the destruction of hundreds of homes, businesses and other structures by the monstrous blaze.
Yet the fact that the more than 90-year-old movie ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains is now mostly ash and rubble bears a sense of sadness all its own. Gone are the facades seen in hundreds of movies and TV shows, not to mention a recreational setting that families from the immediate area, all over Southern California and indeed the world have enjoyed and created memories at for generations.
“Its the only unit in the National Park system thats devoted to telling the story of filmmaking,” David Szymanski, park superintendent for the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, said during a Friday media tour of the devastation – that also included the first glimmer of hope that the location will be restored. “The site has been almost a total loss, with a few exceptions.”
Mike Malone, a retired Park Service ranger shows a map of what Paramount Ranch looked like before the before the Woolsey fire burned the historical movie ranch to the ground. The Park Service has said they will re-build the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
The church was one of the few structures which survived at the Paramount Ranch. Much of the historical ranch was burned to the ground in the Woolsey fire. The Park Service has said they will re-build the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
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A charred poster at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills. Much of the historical movie ranch burned to the ground in the Woolsey fire. The Park Service has said they will re-build the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
David Szymanski, Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area Park Superintendent, has vowed to re-build the historic Paramount Movie ranch within two years. Much of the historical movie ranch in Agoura Hills, CA burned to the ground in the Woolsey fire. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
The train station, in background, is one of the few structures which survived at the Paramount Ranch. Much of the historical ranch was burned to the ground in the Woolsey fire. The Park Service has said they will re-build the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Robert Cromwell, Parks Service Ranger, walks past the destroyed sound stage at Paramount Ranch. Much of the historical ranch in Agoura Hills, CA was burned to the ground in the Woolsey fire. The Park Service has said they will re-build the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
A photo of what the general store at Paramount Ranch looked like before the Woolsey fire burned it, and much of the rest of the historical movie ranch to the ground. The Park Service has said they will rebuild the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Much of the historical western town at Paramount Ranch was destroyed in the Woolsey fire. The Park Service has said they will re-build the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Firefighter Ryan ONeill rakes over hot spots near the church at Paramount Ranch, one of the few structures which survived the Woolsey fire. The Park Service has said they will re-build the ranch within 2 years. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
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Except for the clapboard church recently built for the “Westworld” cable series and the train station seen so often in episodes of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” all of the Western Town structures are piles of charred rubble. On the edge of one trashed foundation, the only recognizable object was a singed brass doorplate with a skeleton key hole.
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All thats left of the horse barn, which was turned into a soundstage decades ago, are crumpled, rusting slabs of corrugated metal roofing. The burned-out hulks of a washing machine and dryer stick up from the otherwise flat, ashen remains of one of the few buildings that wasnt just a front, but a home where a Park Service family used to live.
The giant Valley Oak seen in so many shows, wedding videos and Renaissance Faire photos still stands, but its just a leafless white trunk and twisting branches. Whether or not it will come back to life, like so much other blackened nearby vegetation (although, remarkably, still-green trees ring the shooting location, backgrounded by 360 degrees of thoroughly burnt hillsides), will be told by time.
Purchased by Paramount Pictures in 1927, the once 27,000 acres of the old Rancho Las Virgenes (now 765 acres) has gone through numerous owners over the years. NPS bought the property in 1980, and continued to rent it out to productions while opening it up to public use as well.
The now lost Western Town was created in the 1950s for TV shows such as “The Cisco Kid,” but the location has stood in for North Africa, medieval China, the Canadian Yukon and just about any other part of the world you could think of.
Gary Cooper filmed there a lot, both Westerns (“The Texan,” 1930) and Foreign Legion romances (“Morocco,” the same year). It became 19th Century Missouri for the 1938 “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and, with great versatility, a sophisticated screwball comedy favorite (“Sullivans Travels” 1941, “Ball of Fire” 42, “I Married a Witch” also 42).
Episodes of “Gunsmoke,” “The Fugitive,” “Perry Mason,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Charlies Angels,” “The X Files,” “Big Love,” “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” were among the hundreds of television visitors.
Along with its sets, much of the Paramount Ranchs written history was lost when the fire hit the nearby Rocky Oaks facility, where the records were stored.
“All of our permit files that documented the filming that was going on here are gone,” said Mike Malone, a Park Service veteran who spent the last 16 years of his career in the area – and his time since retiring in 2013 as a volunteer and semi-official Paramount Ranch historian. “So yeah, a double hit.“I didnt just work here,” said Malone, who was evacuated from his Westlake Village during the Woolsey Fire, but returned to a house still standing. “Im lucky that I found a career that became my passion, and combined that with film history, which is my other love. I have lots of memories here; all the tours Ive given and the tangible things that were for anybody who wanted to come out, whether it was portrait photography of somebodys children or a wedding under that big oak tree.”
Fridays media event also announced the launch of The Paramount Project to rebuild the ranchs Western Town. The 24-month projected rebuilding effort is organized by the Park Services nonprofit partner the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. You can get more information on the Project and contribute at www.samofund.org/2018/11/15/the-paramount-project/.
“This was a very emotional, iconic place, it captured history of the area and of Los Angeles,” Fund board president Sara Horner noted. “Its globally significant, it is locally significant and culturally significant.
“Park Services, as you can imagine, is reeling from the losses,” she added. “So they will put together an assessment of their losses, and then we will refine the direction of the plan in place – which will probably change. But there is a plan of what we would like and a schedule for how it will get built, and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund will spearhead the fundraising for that.”
Horner said several movie studios have already called the fund inquiring about how they can help. Her organization is also planning meetings with location managers and other industry professionals to do informal surveys of what they would like to see in the rebuilt Western Town. Due to rigorous Park Service guidelines on what can and cannot be built on their land, she cant say exactly, but Horner expects a combination of the setting looking somewhat like it did before the fire and new facilities to help the film industry to be up two years from now.
Nearby residents hope to get their Hollywood history location back.
“Were so happy to have this park as our nextdoor neighbor,” Agoura Hills mayor pro tem Linda Northrup said. “Ive been coming here since the 70s, and it was wrenching this morning to see whats going on. But Im sure the Park Service is on it and theyre really working to get this park back open, because its really a beautiful place. And when it gets reopened, Im sure people are going to keep coming back.”