Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Corriganville Movie Ranch: A Railroad Adventure

The only thing consistent about Hollywood is its insatiable desire for "the next big thing."  Left in the wake of obscurity created by Hollywood's endless voyage towards new horizons are many people who devoted their entire careers to the business of show.  One of those folks is Crash Corrigan.

Crash Corrigan
(February 14, 1902 - August 10, 1976)

Crash Corrigan found minor success as no-name working actor in B-movies.  He really hit his stride when his willingness to perform extreme stunt work made him a hot commodity and a star of action films - particularly Westerns - of the 1930's.  In 1937, Corrigan parlayed his affinity for the West with his knowledge of the film industry into Corriganville Movie Ranch, a parcel of land that he bought, and on which he built a fully-functioning Western town, with the express purpose of renting it as a location for filming.

The gates to Corriganville

By the late 1940's, the entrepreneurial Corrigan saw an opportunity to exploit the possibilities of his Old West town even further.  Why not open the ranch to the public?  In the days of The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers, it only made good business sense to recreate live scenes of cowboy bravery and high noon shootouts for public consumption.  At the height of its popularity, Corriganville Movie Ranch was a much larger draw than its cowboy cousin to the South, namely Knott's Berry Farm

Rodeos, Wild West shows, pony rides - Corriganville was a full-service
 theme park years before Uncle Walt had Disneyland up and running.

Corrigan and some lucky cowpokes.

There is nothing we love more at wacky tacky than a midcentury interpretation of the Old West, so we were hot on the trail of Corriganville Movie Ranch.  It seemed the perfect destination for an adventure day with our pals Jesse and Emily (a lover of old Hollywood and head blogger at The Silver Screen Affair).  Knowing that the movie ranch itself was long gone, we were hoping to see some remnants of Corrigan's vision.  Unfortunately, the parts of Corriganville that were not devastated by a fire, were destroyed by earthquakes.  Anything else that was left was torn down in the interest of public safety.  The good news is that the land on which Corriganville stood is now a park that can be explored by anyone with a free afternoon and a love of cowboy culture and the great outdoors.

While the Western town is gone, Jesse proves that the landscape offers plenty of Western frontier to discover.
Hiking trails abound and we came across a least two boy scout troops .

Mr. Tiny, Mary, Emily, and Jesse

The only vestiges of Corriganville's former glory are some cement foundations and some
partial stone walls that were part of the working stables. It appears as if some horse's behinds
still populate the premises. 

Okay, some partial stone walls and the vents for the plumbing;
Emily gracefully displays their improper use. 

Mary found some ancient carvings of some indigenous people that
looked suspiciously like a "WT."  wacky tacky?
Did they know we were coming?

The neat part about this movie ranch turned nature reserve are the markers placed throughout the park that identify the history of the land and the films that were shot onsite.  While Corriganville was a prime location for Western pictures, its sprawling grounds made it a natural for shooting films of all kinds.  Would you believe that the Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller were filmed there?  As a matter of fact, it was Ray "Crash" Corrigan, as Weissmuller's stunt double, who wowed moviegoers by swinging from vine to vine.

A manmade lake provided a spot for shooting aquatic film sequences.
The lake has been drained so we were able to see some structural
 elements as well as the underwater booths/bunkers through which the
 cameramen shot the underwater  scenes filmed on the ranch. 

Emily & Mary sitting in a tree...
This particular tree happens to be in the bottom of the lake!

A bitter divorce between Corrigan and his wife was the beginning of the end for Corriganville Movie Ranch.  Unwilling to sacrifice Corriganville to California's well-known community property laws, Corrigan sold Corriganville Movie Ranch and all of its assets to Bob Hope when it henceforth became known as "Hopetown" (as much as we like Hope, this is pretty lame).  According to our sources, it was a persuasive call placed by Walter Knott, of Knott's Berry Farm, to Hope that sealed Corriganville's fate.  The exact details of the phone call are lost to history but what is known is that Corriganville/Hopetown languished, burned, eventually became a ward of the parks department.  While we wish that Corriganville was still a working Western Town/film location/theme park, it was nice to see that the land has been preserved for wacky tacky adventure days.

Corriganville Movie Ranch
7001 Smith Rd
Simi Valley, CA

Just up the road from Corriganville Movie Ranch is another bit of Simi Valley history.  Instead of heading immediately back to the freeway after leaving the park, we made a fortuitous turn and found the transplanted Santa Susana Railroad Depot.  This unexpected stop on our adventure gave us even more insight into the history of Corriganville.

Curt, Mr. Tiny, Emily, Jesse, and Mary

Curt, a local volunteer at the Santa Susana Railroad Depot, was an awesome
tour guide!  He regaled us with details of his 1958 visit to Corriganville and
the "Hanging of Cattle Kate." 

Looking almost exactly as it did on its first day of operation in 1903, the transplanted depot turned museum serves as a historical landmark in the valley, a monument to early 20th Century rail travel and commerce, and a place for train enthusiasts to watch the trains go by and to build railroads of their own.

One of the depot's main functions was to serve as the
Western Union office for the surrounding valley.
If this bike was part of the job of the WU messenger, then I say "Sign me up!"

The depot is outfitted with all the trappings of an early 20th Century train station.

Like sacks of potatoes

Crates of produce

And even more sacks of potatoes....only kidding....the one in the middle is a lady.

I really loved this barrel of railroad spikes.
The most thrilling part of the Santa Susana Railroad Depot was another wacky tacky favorite - miniatures!!!  A large portion of the facilities are dedicated to a huge collection of Lionel trains and a scale model railroad.

Every week, volunteers and scale-model railroad engineers come to
build, operate, and maintain the Santa Susana miniature trains.

A whole environment has been built to reflect Simi Valley and the greater
Los Angeles area.  We were happy to see that  Corriganville was well represented.

Did I mention that I love miniatures?
The details of the setting are meant to reflect Southern California in the 1950's.

Obviously, the details are open to interpretation....
But if I was that shepherd, I would definitely move my flocks far away from
Southern California's native Bengal Tiger population.

Downtown Los Angeles is represented in the form of Philippe's.

This is the part of the railroad's journey that passes through San Pedro.
I think the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce might have a new slogan -
"San Pedro - a great place to hack up sharks." Shudder...

If you're in the market for a wacky tacky adventure day, consider heading up to Simi Valley.  We got a great dose of the Old West, Hollywood lore, railroad history, and vitamin D!  When you're there be sure to give our regards to Crash and to Curt!

Santa Susana Railroad Depot and Museum
6503 Katherine Rd.
Simi Valley, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. Wow, what a neat place!! It's sad to see it in ruins, but I can imagine how great it was.
    When I was in Pioneertown with Crystal Lee we explored the abandoned Hayden Movie Ranch; have you visited it? It was utterly fantastic, although pretty sad to see all that cool stuff going to ruin.

    1. I love Pioneertown! Crystal Lee is so awesome; it was so much fun seeing your adventures! It is amazing how many abandoned studios dot the desert landscape. Sad, but all the more better for wacky tacky explorations!

  2. oh i love the railroad miniatures! i could spend hours looking at something like that!

    1. What is so fascinating about miniatures?! I'm not sure that I have the answer but I do know that I LOVE them! All I could think about was that everything was exactly to scale - even the gravel that surrounded the train tracks! It is too mind boggling for my feather brain, but I'm glad that others make it all possible!

  3. You do the most cool stuff! Poor Corriganville. Would have loved to have seen it back in the day.

    1. Wouldn't that have been the most?!?! I can totally see myself just like the kiddos in the photo - playing it cool but so excited to be taking photos of real, live horses with my very own camera!

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