Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

For an introduction to this blog and to the obsession a growing number of vintage film and TV fans have with the Iverson Movie Ranch — the most widely filmed outdoor location in movie and TV history — please read the site's introductory post, found here.
• Here's a link to Garden of the Gods, the best-known section of the Iverson Movie Ranch (featured in the movie "Stagecoach," the "Lone Ranger" TV show and hundreds of other productions).
• To find other rock features or look up movie titles, TV shows, actors and production people, see the "labels" section — the long alphabetical listing on the right side of the page, below.
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers,click here.
• I've also begun a YouTube channel for Iverson Movie Ranch clips and other movie location videos, which you can get to by clicking here.
• If you know of a way I can set up this blog so readers can subscribe to receive future posts via email, please let me know. In the meantime there's a link all the way at the bottom of this page that says "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)," and if you're inclined to try it, it seems to take you into a world of customizable home pages or something, and you can have blog updates as a part of that page ... whether this is useful to you, who knows, but I thought I'd let you know it's there.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave a comment on any post, or email me at iversonfilmranch@aol.com.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Middle Iverson Ranch Set: a history in pictures

One of the most important manmade sets at the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., was a small cluster of buildings located on the Upper Iverson, usually referred to as the Middle Iverson Ranch Set. It was situated north of what's now the Simi Valley Freeway, above the northern end of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, on land that today holds a condominium complex. The ranch set existed in some form for about 30 years — from roughly 1940 to 1970 — until a huge fire swept through the area from Newhall to Malibu in September 1970 and destroyed most of Iverson’s remaining sets, including what was left of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set.

The ranch set consisted of a variety of buildings over the years, including a main house, at least two different barns at different times, a bunkhouse that received a lot of screen time, and a small shed that was right in the middle of the compound and also appeared on film quite a bit. At least one other small outbuilding also was in place for a short time.


(Click on the photos if needed for a larger view.)

Early Barn

Along with the main house, the original construction of the ranch set (circa 1940-1942) included a barn. This barn was only around for a few years, and is not widely seen in the movies. But it does make a few appearances.

Here’s an early view of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set from "Bells of Rosarita" (1945), showing the first barn along with a glimpse of the main house (southwest face), at the right, and the shed, at left.

Another early look at the Middle Iverson Ranch Set layout — rough picture quality but showing the set from a more traditional angle, with the main house at the left, the early barn at the right, and the shed in the middle (just above the horses). The shot is from "Rough Riders of Cheyenne" (1945).

Main House (“Halfway House”)

The main house, often referred to as Halfway House because of its location between the busiest areas of the Lower Iverson and Upper Iverson, was part of the original construction of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set. It was featured in film and TV productions for at least two decades, making one of its earliest appearances on film in 1942, in "Outlaws of Boulder Pass." It has been described as having multiple fronts, and it did have two different fronts — one facing southwest and one facing northeast. Both fronts were filmed for movies and television productions. It has occasionally been reported that the house had either three different fronts or four fronts, but these reports appear to be inaccurate. (More about that below.)

The house is seen in a wide variety of productions, including the landmark rock ‘n’ roll movie "Don’t Knock the Rock" in 1956, and makes one of its later appearances in the nuclear armageddon movie "Panic in Year Zero" in 1962.

Main house (southwest face), Middle Iverson Ranch Set, as seen in "The Millerson Case" (1947). This is the most common view of the house.

Main house (northeast face), Middle Iverson Ranch Set, along with the shed, as seen in "Buffalo Bill Rides Again" (1947). Even though this looks like a smaller house, it's the same building seen in the photo above it, viewed from the opposite side. The non-rectangular shape of the structure creates the illusion of different-sized buildings.

Here’s another look at the northeast face of the main house. This shot is from "The Hills of Utah" (1951). The "rake-style" pillars supporting the porch are a key identifier for this side of the building. Picket fences came and went as the years went on, and they tend to have a dramatic impact on the appearance of the house. The same house front that looks like a family residence here looks more like an old Western cabin in the shot above this one.

Obviously a dark shot, but the main house of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set served as a nighttime gathering place for dance-crazed teenagers in "Don’t Knock the Rock" (1956). The house appears here with the hot rods starting to gather in front of it in a scene from the movie, with the bunkhouse visible at the left. You will probably be able to see more if you enlarge the photo (by clicking on it).

Main house (southwest face), Middle Iverson Ranch Set, as seen in "Gun Duel in Durango" (1957). Note that by this time telephone poles had begun to find their way into the backgrounds, as if to underscore that the era of the Western was winding down.


This view also offers a decent look at one side of the house — the northwest face (on the left). One could make an argument that this side could have served as a third "front," as it does have a door. However, shooting it as a front would require an unusually limited shot to hide the rest of the house, and it seems unlikely it would have been used this way. I can't completely rule it out, but I don't think I've ever seen this side used as a front in any production.


Since I first posted this entry, Western movie location expert Tinsley Yarbrough pointed me to an unusual view of the house seen in "Black Hills" (1948). Here it is:


This may be the closest thing we will see to a use of the northwest face of the house as a "front." In contrast to the shot above this one, from "Gun Duel in Durango," here it almost looks as though that side of the house includes a garage, which I don't think is the intent as this is a horse movie. At any rate, this side of the house is featured prominently here in "Black Hills," but it still seems clear it represents the side of the house, not the front. The southwest face, largely obscured here but visible at the right of the photo, appears to be the front of the house.


The following shot, also from "Black Hills," appears to show people arriving at the front of the house, depicted as usual by the southwest face:


The main house makes an important appearance in the pilot episode of the TV show "The Real McCoys" — important because it was such a widely seen and much-loved show, but also symbolically important because it underscored the role of the San Fernando Valley, both in the settling of the greater Los Angeles area and in the booming film and TV industries that played a huge role in the expansion of the city. The building was introduced as the McCoys' house after the family left West Virginia to build a new life in California’s San Fernando Valley. Location purists may be pleased to learn that the house was in fact in the San Fernando Valley, in Chatsworth.

Northeast face of the main house at Middle Iverson, as seen in the 1957 pilot episode of the TV show "The Real McCoys." That's the McCoys driving up in the family jalopy, having just made the trip from West Virginia to their new California farmhouse.

The McCoy family takes a good first look at its new house, which is in pretty bad shape. The scene takes place entirely on the Middle Iverson Ranch Set, and in this shot the shed is visible behind the McCoys.

Later in the pilot episode of "The Real McCoys," Grandpappy Amos, played by Walter Brennan, brings his banjo when he comes a-callin’ on a neighbor lady. In another interesting twist from a location standpoint, the neighbor’s house — which is supposed to be some distance away — is played by the other side of the McCoys’ house: the southwest face of the main house at Middle Iverson.

This shot is NOT at Iverson, but at the site that soon became the substitute for the original Iverson house seen in the pilot. As a footnote to the appearance of the Middle Iverson house in the "Real McCoys" pilot, the show appears to have used the Iverson set only for that one episode (although I have not had a chance to scan the entire series yet). The original site was replaced with the above house and small barn set in subsequent episodes and in the familiar title sequence that opened each episode. I suspect this location might be known to some of you readers, and I would love to hear from you. For now, I can't say where this is, but based on its many appearances in the show it looks more like a location set to me than a studio backlot. Something I find interesting about it is that an attempt was apparently made to make this later version of the McCoys’ house resemble the northeast face of the Middle Iverson main house that appeared in the pilot, including adding the “rake-style” decorations to the support beams for the front porch. I think the visual trick was pretty effective — it took some careful comparisons to determine that this is not the same place.

One of the more intriguing appearances by the Middle Iverson house — aka Halfway House — is in the 1962 Cold War movie "Panic in Year Zero," which involves the outbreak of World War III and includes stunning shots of a nuclear bomb falling on Los Angeles. (The money shot of the mushroom cloud, which is included in a detailed post about "Panic in Year Zero" that you can see by clicking here, was taken from Santa Susana Pass Road, west of the Iverson Movie Ranch, and if you know just where to look you can see the Garden of the Gods in the distance.) Here’s a nice shot of the southwest face of the house, along with two of the young hoodlums who take over the residence in the movie after the atom bomb destroys L.A. If you compare this shot to the view of the house as the neighbor lady's home in the "Real McCoys" pilot (two photos up from this one), you should be able to spot similarities such as the two distinctive pillars supporting the roof over the the front porch.

This shot from "Panic in Year Zero" shows most of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set as it appeared in 1962, including the main house, the later barn at far left, the bunkhouse to its right, and at the far right of the shot, a rarely seen shed to the east of the house. (The view of the much more commonly seen central shed is blocked by the house.) This shot also offers a good look at the southeast end of the main house, establishing that it could not have been used as a house front. This is a really nice shot of the whole spread — I encourage you to click on it to enlarge it. (For an in-depth post about "Panic in Year Zero," click here.)

Besides being used extensively for filming, the house was apparently occupied as a residence, but it is unclear who lived there. It’s also unclear exactly when the house disappeared and what happened to it, but it was gone at least by 1969 — outlived, for a short time, by both the Bunkhouse and the second barn.

Like all of the former Middle Iverson Ranch Set, the location where the house stood is now part of a condominium complex off Poema Place, north of the Simi Valley Freeway in Chatsworth, Calif. The exact location of the house is now one of the driveways into the condo complex.

Bunkhouse

The bunkhouse was one of the more enduring sets at the Iverson Movie Ranch, being built in about 1947 and lasting until the 1970 fire. It was a regular feature in a string of movies, mostly B-Westerns, and continued to appear regularly after the focus shifted to television.

Here’s a shot of the bunkhouse from an episode of the TV show "The Lone Ranger." The episode, "The Prince of Buffalo Gap," first aired April 4, 1957, and was part of the final season of the TV show — the only season that was shot in color. Here you can catch a glimpse of Oat Mountain, the sprawling backdrop to the north of the Iverson Movie Ranch, peeking out above the roofline.

Cottage

The Middle Iverson Ranch Set included a variety of minor outbuildings over the years, but by far the most commonly seen one was a small wooden cabin, or cottage, sometimes referred to as a shed, which stood right in the middle of the main buildings and survived for most of the life of the set.

Here’s a look at the central cottage in 1945, in "Rough Riders of Cheyenne."

Late Barn

A second barn went up sometime in the mid- to late 1950s, and for a time the Middle Iverson Ranch Set included three main structures: the main house, the bunkhouse and the late barn. The central shed also remained in place during this period.

Here's a look at the late barn at Middle Iverson in the 1961 movie "Gun Street." Like the early barn, the late barn made only a few appearances in the movies and TV.


A similar view of the late barn, in color, in "The Cat," released in 1966.


Another shot from "The Cat" shows the relationship of the late barn, partially visible at far left, to the bunkhouse, in the background at left, and the shed, at far right. Seen in the distance is Oat Mountain, and in front of it are a couple of the distinctive low hills that help identify countless Iverson productions. The 1966 movie "The Cat" is one of the later productions to be shot at the Iverson Movie Ranch while it was still a working movie filming site, and one of the very last to feature the Middle Iverson Ranch Set.

Identifying markers

While everything that was on the ground in the immediate area of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set is gone now — replaced by a condominium complex — some key markers remain that help pinpoint where the set once stood. Most significantly, Cactus Hill — a fairly large hill that effectively divided Upper Iverson and Lower Iverson during the filming era — remains intact. At the eastern end of Cactus Hill are some large rocks that can be seen in the backgrounds of movie and TV shots of the set.

Here’s an example:

Boulders at the eastern end of Cactus Hill, as seen in "Buffalo Bill Rides Again" (1947).

Boulders at the eastern end of Cactus Hill, as seen in recent times. Note the large parallelogram-shaped boulder at the top of the photo, just right of center, and the small stacked rock toward the left, both of which are also seen above in the shot from "Buffalo Bill Rides Again."
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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It seems that most of the exterior shots for "The Real McCoys" was on the Forty Acres backlot of Desilu studios - formerly RKO. The following links provide some information.
Hop it helps. Enjoy! Rick.

http://www.retroweb.com/40acres_desilu_years.html

http://www.retroweb.com/40acres_tour_pt4.html

Swami Nano said...

Thanks Rick ...

Those are fantastic links for 40 Acres. The aerial shots of the backlot from 1963 really show just where the Real McCoys set was.

-swami