24 September 2019

Once Upon a Time In… Corriganville

Famous Corriganville rock in upper left of picture,
Silvertown Street, Corriganville
One of my favorite places to go as a kid was Corriganville. And knowing that Quentin Tarantino recreated the Spahn Ranch of Manson fame (or infamy) for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood on what’s left of Corriganville brought back lots of memories. So I thought I’d talk a little about it today. (Next time I’ll talk about other locations he used in that flick.)

But Corriganville really does have a special place in my heart. It was a movie ranch out Simi Valley way, north of Los Angeles. Tons of B westerns and other movies were filmed there and at the nearby Iverson Ranch (more on that in another piece, too). But on the weekends it was opened up as an amusement park of sorts, sort of a pre-Universal Studios Tour studio tour—or movie ranch tour. My grandparents took me there several times and in those days it was quite an excursion to get out there, if not quite a covered wagon journey over Donner Pass. And the reason it’s special to me is that it’s the only place my grandparents took me that no one else ever took me. So that gives it a special significance.

Quentin Tarantino's Spahn Ranch set at Corriganville - photo by Cliff Ro berts
The ranch was owned by actor and stuntman Crash Corrigan, who could be found there on the weekends—he lived there. Some of the things filmed there included Sky King, Lassie, the Roy Rogers show, the Lone Ranger (for a time it was even known as Lone Ranger Ranch) and tons of mostly B, but some A movies. One of those A flicks was the John Ford/John Wayne/Henry Fonda Fort Apache movie. The fort at Corriganville was built for that movie and was used in many other things, including the Adventures of Rin Tin Tin TV series. I was a huge Rinty fan. So going there as a kid, getting to go to the fort and play around was a big thrill.

John Wayne (back row, third from left) and John Ford (se ated front row) on Fort Apache set
There’s a famous rock in the background—Corriganville Rock—that you can see in many of the TV shows and movies (see postcard pic at top). The western town street was called Silvertown, but the ranch also included a Mexican village, outlaw cabins, caves, Robin Hood Lake, a Corsican village and plenty of rugged scenery.

And what a kick it was to go there as a kid when it was still in use as a movie ranch. As one knows, one should always dress for the occasion and Corriganville was no exception. I would don my cowboy hat and bright red cowboy boots, my six shooters, maybe a vest or even chaps. And off we'd go—because in those days a kid could wear a fairly realistic-looking gun and holster to an amusement park and nobody would look or think twice about getting shot for real.

Girl and boy playing at Fort Apache, Corriganville
I remember the excitement of being on a “real” western street with real cowboys and Indians and staged shootouts. But one of my strongest memories is of going into the western street saloon, through those swinging saloon doors and finding that instead of a false front there was an actual restaurant or cafeteria. It was more of the modern variety but still fun. And in my mind I was a real cowboy in a real cowboy saloon and pity the poor fool who drew against me.

Being a fan of Rinty, Rusty and Lt. Rip Masters my favorite site on the ranch was Fort Apache. It was like being there in the old west. And it was a kick to see it in person to go along with my Marx Toys Rin Tin Tin Fort Apache playset and autographed photo of Jim Brown (Lt. Rip Masters) in cavalry uniform, posing with Rin Tin Tin himself.

Several fires at various times burned down most of the sets. Eventually, Bob Hope bought the property from Crash Corrigan. He changed the name to Hopetown and also built a housing development by that name on some of the property. Eventually, most of the ranch was sold off for development. But about 200 acres of the property, where most of the sets were, has been turned into a park.
Corriganville western town set remnants 
Some time during the late 1970s or early eighties, I saw a newspaper—you remember newspapers, don’t you?—announcement saying there was to be a chili cook-off at Corriganville, the old movie ranch. I was more than a little excited to relive some of those fond memories of yesteryear. So my cousin and I took our nephew and headed to the land of Crash Corrigan. And, like the smell of a Madeleine pastry in Proust's novel Remembrance of Things of Past (yeah, I know they changed the name), which brings on a lifetime of memories for the protagonist, just being at what used to be Corriganville, still called Hopetown at the time of the cook-off, brought on a flood of memories, even if most of the sets were gone with the wind. See the pix here of set remnants—and now even the remnants of the sets that were there then are gone.

Corriganville Fort Apache set location pad

 And then Amy and I went there after it had become a park and even more was gone, but some things remained, mostly the lake/river bed channel and some foundations of the old sets. Still, it was fun to be there and share the experience and reminiscences with her as she’d never been.

Me with Pepper and Audie at Corriganville Park
Since Tarantino is such a fan of Hollywood, I’m sure it was a kick for him to film there. And, corny as it may sound, although Corriganville is gone it will always be there in my mind, a place of fun, wonderful grandparents, and good memories. Who could ask for more? And what are some of your special childhood memories?

You can find out more about it here: www.corriganville.net .


And now for the usual BSP:

Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

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  1. A terrific article, Paul! Nice photos, too. I think I've told you how much I like Tarantino's latest. I personally think it's his best. Thanks for the trip to Corriganville. Nothing like Corriganville was still around when I was a kid because, as you know, LA sucks that way. I edited Raising Hope for four years in Chatsworth, not far from where Spahn Ranch once was. I visited the sight one dusk after work. There was a church at the address. I was happy to jump back on the 118 back to Pasadena.

  2. Thanks, Larry. We have had some chats on Once Upon a Time In... Hollywood. And, unfortunately, as you say, LA doesn't hold onto its past in way too many cases. So, did you see ghosts of Manson when you made your trip out to Spahn? There's not much left there either these days.

    Did you hit Iverson, or what's left of it when you were out in Chatsworth, too? I'm going to write on that in the future.

  3. Nice posting. I learned something new. And yes, childhood memories are great. We traveled when I was a kid. My father was in the army. I've been to old Abeline, Dodge City and Tombstone but they were touristy. Found a couple ghost towns when I was in the army in Alabama and here in Louisiana. Always liked them best.

  4. Thanks, O'Neil. Childhood memories and ghost towns are fun. It always strikes me as interesting that Abiline and Dodge City, two of the most wild of the "wild west" towns are in Kansas. I never think of Kansas as the wild west, but it really was.

  5. Paul, I went to Corriganville a few times with my dad. There's a photo of six-year-old me in full cowboy getup, pointing my six guns at a couple of mangy cowpokes (who have their hands up). They were stuntmen who were part of the shootout show.

    Another memory of that kind was when Montie Montana came to my school, Serrania Avenue Elementary, riding his palomino and doing rope tricks.

    Good times from a grand era.

  6. Great post, Paul. I never went to Corriganville, but I did go to Tombstone, Dodge City, and Deadwood back in the early 60s, when it was still almost a ghost town, with none of the casinos or touristy things going on.

  7. For the life of me, I can't remember if I filmed there or not.

  8. Paul,

    A very interesting blog. What a nice memory!

  9. I hate to think that all our memories of Hollywood will be just that... memories. But for now it's nice that some folks still have them and can write about them. Thanks for the memories...(Mr. Hope included)

  10. Cool, Scott. I wonder if you and I ever got into a draw down on those dusty Silvertown Streets. And I think it’s really great that you have a picture from then. If there were pictures of me at Corriganville I think they’re long gone.

    And that’s cool about Monte Montana. He never came to my school, but I remember seeing him several times at the Sheriff’s Rodeo at the Coliseum. Did you ever go to that?

    Like you say, “good times from a grand era.”

  11. Thanks, Eve. Well, you got to go to the real places. I just had the pretend cow town. And that’s really cool that you got to go to those places before they bacme so touristy.

  12. That would be cool if you did, Elizabeth.

  13. Thanks, Jacqueline. It really is a nice memory.

  14. Thanks, Gayle. It amazes me how much of Hollywood (and L.A.) history has just disappeared. Century City used to be 20th Century-Fox’s backlot, there was a huge studio at Sunset and PCH. And so much more. All gone now.

  15. What a fascinating post! I love your insights into the history of Hollywood and L.A. They're really wonderful.

  16. Thanks, Ellen! Hope to see you Saturday.

  17. Oh, man. I'm pretty good about avoiding deadly sins, but reading your visits to the ranch caused Envy to bite me in the ass. Wow, what a great memory and piece of history.

    Corriganville lives on in your article.

  18. Thanks, Leigh. And, unfortunately, some places only live on in memory. But at least with Corriganville there's lots of photos and movies that were shot there.

  19. excellent article....i was a fan of Sky King and those Western TV shows back then but even though i visited the poor side of Beverly Hills every XMAS and summer as a kid I was never taken to Corriganville. Instead I remember waiting, waiting at the May Company while my Mother and GrandMother shopped. Big fun for me was going with my GrandFather to his parking/garage business on Melrose in front of Paramount and helping his employee Clem wash the movie stars' cars.

  20. Thanks for your comment howlinking. I'm not sure which May Co. you're talking about but if it was the one at Wilshire and Fairfax, we used to go there, too. And that's cool to wash the stars' cars. Did you ever meet any?

  21. I was just visiting there last Sunday morn as I reside only fifteen minutes from this site. My late Auntie Gloria was a film/tv actress and appeared in quite a number of westerns, some of them filmed @ this location and also nearby Iverson. Several of those points seen in her performances included "Silvertown", "Robin Hood Lake" and Corrigan's actual residence.

  22. My family went there a few times in the early '50s, when I was a kid. I still have several photos from our visits, some with me and/or my sibs with Crash. We rode the horses a lot, and really enjoyed it. I remember going into the saloon and ordering sasparilla.


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