At Melody Ranch.
By Leon Worden.
©1997, OLD TOWN NEWHALL, USA ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE CITY OF SANTA CLARITA'S
4th ANNUAL COWBOY POETRY & MUSIC FESTIVAL SOUVENIR GUIDE.
The Melody Ranch story really begins in 1922, when Trem Carr came out West to make movies. The 1920s saw him make several pictures in the Santa Clarita Valley, particularly in Placerita Canyon, where he started Monogram Pictures with a partner. There he hooked up with Ernie Hickson, an astute set designer, historian and collector of Western Americana. Hickson built a Western movie town for Monogram, just east of the modern-day Placerita Canyon Road exit off of State Route 14 (where Disney's Golden Oak Ranch is located today). When Carr's lease expired in 1936 Hickson bought a 10-acre parcel at Oak Creek and Placerita Canyon roads and moved his movie town there.
Known as the Monogram Ranch during the 1930s and renamed Placeritos Ranch in the '40s, the town hosted its share of climactic Hollywood moments. It was on one of the dusty Western streets at the ranch that "High Noon's" immortal face-down played itself out. Just about every old celluloid cowboy to ride across the silver screen ambled through this Monogram set at one time or another men like John Wayne, Harry Carey, Tom Tyler, Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele and the legendary Singing Cowboy himself, Gene Autry.
Ernie Hickson died on January 22, 1952. Later that year, Autry purchased his old stomping grounds, which he renamed "Melody Ranch," and moved into a farm house which still stands on the property. Contrary to what one might assume, Autry's weekly television series in the 1950s was not filmed at Melody Ranch, but hundreds of other feature films and television programs were, including Gunsmoke and Wyatt Earp.
The magic was not to last. On August 28, 1962, a violent firestorm swept through Placerita Canyon and engulfed most of the movie town's original Western structures. Elvis Presley, on location, helped battle the flames, but to little avail.
"What I lost could not be replaced or even measured," Gene Autry said recently. "I had always planned to erect a Western museum there, but priceless Indian relics and a collection of rare guns, including a set used by Billy the Kid, went up in smoke. Thank God, the ranch hands and all fourteen of our horses were uninjured."
In the decades after the fire, Autry and his business manager wife Jackie sold off portions of the 110-acre ranch. The final ten acres, where the buildings had stood, went on the market in November, 1990. Brothers Renaud and Andre Veluzat, longtime Newhall residents and film industry executives, quickly purchased the parcel and restored the Western movie ranch to its former glory in 1991.
Today, modern superstars like Bruce Willis, Jeff Bridges and Randy Travis are creating new legends at the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio as they mesmerize new movie-goers and television audiences with the timeless drama of the American West.
The writer thanks Gene Autry and Renaud Veluzat for their assistance with this story.
to view old photographs of Melody Ranch
to return to Old Town Newhall, USA