April 30, 2014

Photo Essay: Melody Ranch Movie Ranch, Closed to Public (Except this Once)

Yes, some of Hollywood's old movie ranches have been converted into parks and tourist attractions, but some of them have been preserved in super secrecy so that modern Western TV shows and movies still have an authentic-looking place out in the deserty outdoors to shoot their saloon scenes and gunfights.

Case in point: Melody Ranch.

It looks like an Old West town, but it's a real motion picture studio...

...that dates back to 1915 and was eventually sold to Gene Autry in 1952.

Countless movie stars have graced this property, whose buildings were reused over and over again until a wildfire raged through the canyon ten years later, burning down much of the western town.

Only a few of the fake adobe walls survived...

...and a couple of original structures, including a black barn...

...and the house that once served as Autry's dressing room...

...which a bucket brigade managed to save during the fire.

Rumor has it that firefighters had to choose between saving the nearby houses or the ranch, and they chose the houses.

Melody Ranch is tucked away in a residential neighborhood of Santa Clarita now, surrounded by lots of residential homes, but there wasn't much there when it was first built.

When the fire struck and ruined nearly everything in the place that he loved, Autry moved out of the ranch, leaving it as a retirement home for his horse, Champion. When Champion died in 1990, the Veluzat Brothers bought the ranch and rebuilt most of the structures, adhering as best they could to their original designs, based on film footage and old still photos.

The entire Western Town / Main Street is a reproduction, but in its same exact location...

...each building in its original footprint.

The ranch opens up once a year for the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, where cowboys – some real, some costumed – descend upon it to demonstrate their gun tricks, roping, horseback riding, and blacksmith skills along the main drag.

Some of the buildings are just flat fa├žades, like the set pieces used to fool the bad guys in Blazing Saddles.

Others are practical sets that you can actually go into and film inside of... a bordello / concert hall, a general store, a saloon, and a jail.

Vendors occupy most of these buildings during the festival.

The end of Main Street is currently cordoned off for an upcoming Warner production...

...rumored to be a multi-year contract.

Other recent productions that have used Melody Ranch as a shooting location include the HBO series Deadwood...

...and the Tarantino film Django Unchained.

This reddish building served as the haberdashery where the doctor buys Django his fancy hat.

Lots of places at Melody Ranch will look familiar to those well-versed in episodes of The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and more, though sometimes a church was a church...

...and other times, maybe the church was a schoolhouse.

Melody Ranch appears to be a full-service facility, even with its own train...

...and three proper, modern soundstages.

Even The Amazing Race began their season's race last year at Melody Ranch.

Most of Melody Ranch was technically (re)built in the last 25 years, but when you visit, it feels like you're stepping back in time, into an era of outlaws and lawmen and saloon girls and the Gold Rush.

Or was that just because of the guy who tried to lasso me?

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