August 20, 2018

Photo Essay: A Silent Movie Cowboy's Retirement Ranch (And His Horse's Final Resting Place)

I didn't have to know who William S. Hart was to be interested in visiting his ranch.

I didn't even have to have seen any of his silent films.

His on-screen legacy hasn't yet reached the legendary status of some of his cowboy contemporaries, like Roy Rogers or Will Rogers, but he left us the treasure of his La Loma de los Vientos, the "Hill of the Winds" in Newhall, California.

When Hart retired on this hill, it was upon completing his final film, Tumbleweeds (1925).

He'd live out the next two decades of his life with his invalid sister Mary Ellen in the 10,000-square-foot Spanish Colonial Revival style mansion overlooking his Horseshoe Ranch.

He commissioned architect Arthur R. Kelly (better known for his work on the Playboy Mansion) to build it—but not just for him, and not just for him and his sister.

The not-quite-two-story home, built into the slope of the hill, was for Hart, his sister, his horse Fritz, and his dogs.

In fact, the story of William S. Hart is a story of a man and his beloved pinto horse—a studio-owned, silent movie star in his own right, as well as a predecessor to such other famous cowboy companions as Trigger and Silver (as in "Hi ho Silver, away!").

Among the fine art, fine china, and Native American artifacts, you'll also find plenty of equine paraphernalia and memorabilia...

...including a wall devoted to the horseshoes of the many horses of Horseshoe Ranch, one of whom was a female pack mule named Lisbeth who had a love affair with Fritz (though he was a gelding, incapable of breeding with her or any other ladies).

The two were even allowed to visit Hart inside the house, where they'd have breakfast together in an upstairs room at the top of the hill, not far from the master bedroom that the film star abdicated to his two Harlequin Great Danes and bulldog.

Hart was such an animal lover that when he left the ranch to the County of Los Angeles (with a sizable endowment for its maintenance), he stipulated that his animals be allowed to remain and that there must always be animals on the property. True to his last wishes, Hart Park was dedicated on September 20, 1958—and "a charge or fee shall never be made of the public for admittance."

Halfway down the hill from the mansion and turret, there's a small herd of American bison, which dates back to 1962 when Walt Disney relocated a few of them—known at the time as "Hollywood's last buffalo herd"—from his own Golden Oak Ranch to this county park, less than three miles away. The beasts have been swapped out with other herds to prevent inbreeding, so it's unlikely any of them are actual descendants of the Disney originals.

Farther down the trail, past the bunkhouse (used as a guest house, housing for ranch hands, and now storage)...

...the only living creatures you may see are rattlesnakes and other reptiles.

Then, of course, there's the dog cemetery...

...where 11 of Hart's dogs are interred...

...including his prized Great Danes, Gall and Prince (a.k.a. Prince Hamlet the Dane II).

In some ways, the real star attraction of Hart Park is Fritz the Pinto pony, who reportedly got more fan mail than his movie star master (at least, on occasion).

Fritz died of old age at 31, having lived out the last 14 years of his life in retirement at Horseshoe Ranch, too.

Of course, plenty of other horses have retired there, too, over the last 90 years.

And one of the big draws for me to go visit the park was to meet the barnyard animals...

...not the least of which are five resident South American domesticated alpacas, all females.

I wonder whether Hart cared much for pigs or tortoises or geese or ducks, the primary residents of the park's barnyard today. But then again, it probably doesn't matter—as long as the public can come and enjoy them (as I did, indeed).

Besides, he was such an animal lover that I don't think he would split hairs over which ones got to call his park home.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Oakridge, An Old Hollywood Celebrity Ranch
Photo Essay: Corriganville Movie Ranch, Burned to the Ground
Photo Essay: Melody Ranch Movie Ranch, Closed to Public (Except this Once)
Photo Essay: The Island Where the Buffalo Roam

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