The Santa Monica Mountains Fund, in cooperation with the National Park Service, has launched “The Paramount Project,” a campaign to rebuild Paramount Ranch’s Western Town, recently destroyed by the Woolsey Fire.
The site, long popular with location scouts looking to replicate a rustic town with a Western motif, was also used for many of the special events that take place at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, including weddings, star parties, music festivals, classic movie nights and a variety of other activities. A National Park Service employee, along with her family, lived in Western Town and was one of three employees who lost park housing in the Woolsey fire.
The new fundraising initiative is expected to restore the only National Park Service site that interprets American film history. It was purchased by the National Park Service in 1980 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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The focus of the campaign is to tap into the creativity, expertise, and resources of both the entertainment community and the general public to create a temporary set and then, ultimately, a number of permanent structures that will retain the rustic features of the past, but with more fire-resistant materials.
The National Park Service and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund have already been contacted by members of the entertainment industry who would like to be involved in the project.
In 1927, Paramount Pictures purchased 2,700 acres of the old Rancho Las Virgenes for use as a "movie ranch." Thus began an era of film production that had continued until last week with more than 300 films, television shows and commercials being shot here. The current ranch is comprised of 765 acres.
Famous Hollywood actors, from Bob Hope and Marlene Dietrich to Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper, have strolled around the dusty streets that could be magically transformed into a real town that included a general store, a sheriff’s jail, a saloon, drugstore and a variety of other settings. After it was purchased by Paramount Pictures, a veritable who's who of Hollywood, such as director Cecil B. DeMille and actors Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert, practiced their craft here for the next 25 years.
But it was the diverse landscape that was the real star of the show. It offered filmmakers the freedom to create distant locales such as colonial Massachusetts in The Maid of Salem (1937), ancient China in The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938), a South Seas island in Ebb Tide (1937), and numerous western locations including San Francisco in Wells Fargo (1937). The art of illusion was mastered in this landscape.
In the 1950s, Western Town was created for television shows, such as The Cisco Kid. More recent television productions at Paramount include The Mentalist, Weeds, episodes of the X-Files and Hulu’s Quickdraw.
More recently, Western Town gained attention as Main Street in HBO’s hit series “Westworld.” For five years in the 1990s, it stood in as Colorado Springs, Colorado, providing the backdrop for many of actress Jane Seymour’s frontier adventures on the popular TV show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Also, Sandra Bullock had a leading role in The Lake House here.
Less known is the history of the Paramount Racetrack. The track operated from 1956 to 1957 and was known as one of the most challenging in the nation. The movie, The Devil’s Hairpin, was filmed on the course, which closed down after three fatalities within 18 months from its opening. Most of the track still winds through the grass and oak woodlands of the park.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A unit of the National Park System, it comprises a seamless network of local, state, and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. As one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/samo.
The Santa Monica Mountains Fund works to protect and encourage appreciation and understanding of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The Fund achieves this by supporting National Park Service efforts in education, science, research, improved facilities, citizen engagement, stewardship and philanthropy. For more information, visit www.samofund.org.