“Let’s today begin to make that commitment to restore this place,” said state Assemblymember Richard Bloom, speaking at a press conference to announce a new fundraising initiative to restore the Western film set in the Santa Monica Mountains.
“It is so important to the history, not just right here of this spot and the Paramount Ranch, but really, to the industry that it’s so much a part of,” he said.
Behind Bloom, the town’s Main Street and three neighboring park homes lay in ruins, charred heaps of ash and rubble lying beneath twisted, burnt metal.
Miraculously, the town’s small white chapel, which has been featured prominently in the HBO series Westworld, and train station were unscathed, likely thanks to their distance from the other buildings.
The Santa Monica Mountains Fund, a non-profit that supports the park, aims to have the set completely rebuilt within two years with backing from Hollywood studios, according to David Szymanski, superintendent of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
But some adjustments will have to be made.
“I think it’ll be a variation on what was here,” said Sara Horner, president of the nonprofit’s board, who noted that several people in the entertainment community have already reached out to help.
“There are new building guidelines that we’ll have to abide by,” she said. “And then we’d like to make whatever renovations or changes would be possible to make it more useful to the local film community.”
The ranch isn’t merely a filming location. It’s also a popular venue for weddings and other events. Szymanski said park officials want to rebuild it with that in mind.
“One of the things is, the sound barn and the pavilion are great event spaces,” Szymanski told Curbed. “We’ll probably do some things both inside and out…[to] make them better event spaces, that will help us to still work for filming.”
In the meantime, Szymanski and Horner noted that a temporary set will be built on the other side of bordering Medea Creek so studios can continue to take advantage of the area.
Perhaps no one who spoke at yesterday’s event was more personally affected than Agoura Hills City Councilmember Linda Northrup, who grew up in the town of nearly 21,000 and recalled how the ranch was a popular destination for her and her friends as teenagers.
“When we got in fights with our parents, we’d go take a hike, and we had this place to come take a hike to,” said Northrup. “All my sisters’ wedding photos are at the Western Town. And I gotta tell you, when we got the news [from] Emergency Ops that this town was gone, a piece of my heart really hurt.”
True to its name, Paramount Ranch was established in 1927 by Paramount Pictures, which built a number of standing sets there, including a replica of early San Francisco.
After it was sold off in the early 1950s, the property changed hands numerous times, but a permanent Old West set remained a popular destination for Hollywood location shooting. Movies and TV shows filmed at the ranch include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, American Sniper, The Lake House, The Great Outdoors, The Mentalist, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
Standing in front of the remains of the town, Horner told Curbed that prior to the Woolsey Fire, plans to protect the ranch from fires had already been in the works.
“Ironically, the Park Service already had a design plan in place that was a utility upgrade for the site, which would have had water here,” she said, with a sad smile. “Which we don’t have.”