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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Iverson Movie Ranch Western street, one building at a time ... Part XVI: The decline and fall of the Western street

"The Lone Ranger" TV series: "Ghost Town Fury" (aired March 28, 1957)

It may seem morbid to devote the final entry in this series to the deterioration of the Iverson Western street, but the town's "Golden Years" provide a fascinating coda to its 12-year Hollywood career. As the set became increasingly dilapidated from about 1954 on, it was typically called on to depict a ghost town, as it did in "The Lone Ranger."

Readers who have been following this series of posts will probably recognize many of the landmarks in this shot of the south end of town. The episode aired in early 1957, during the final season of "The Lone Ranger," and was most likely shot during 1956. The decay of the town set was already well under way at the time.

"Treasure of Ruby Hills" (filmed in 1954, released in 1955) — Casa Grande in background

At the north end of town, Casa Grande, seen at the right in the above shot, remained in the condition shown here — with its front awning resting askew against the building after apparently falling off — for a period of time from about 1954-1956.

"Annie Oakley" TV series (1954) — before the awning fell off

This is what Casa Grande looked like just before the awning came loose — probably in late 1953, or very early in 1954. This shot appears in the "Annie Oakley" episode "Justice Guns," which aired April 17, 1954. The town in general was still in decent shape at this point.

But by the time "Treasure of Ruby Hills" was filmed later in 1954, the awning was down and not just Casa Grande, but also much of the rest of the town, was a mess. As it turns out, this was a busy period for filming on the town set, resulting in Casa Grande's "awning askew" look turning up in a number of other productions.

The "Silvertown" sign in "Treasure of Ruby Hills" makes the point that what was once a town of 2,200 people is now deserted. While the numbers don't apply, the sign could almost be talking about the actual Iverson town set.

"Jailbreakers" (filmed circa 1955-56)

The above promo still for the movie "Jailbreakers" shows Casa Grande in the background with the awning still perched awkwardly against the building. If you look closely you'll notice that the awning has in fact fallen further since filming took place for "Treasure of Ruby Hills," and the building has deteriorated further as well.

Another promo shot for "Jailbreakers" again shows the Casa Grande awning in the background, behind the head of the man on the ground. I've been unable to find the backstory on the movie, which was a fairly obscure crime/exploitation flick, but for some reason it wasn't released until 1960 — some four or five years after it filmed.

"Whirlybirds" TV series (shot in 1956)

Fans of the old TV show "Whirlybirds" will probably love this shot, as I do. The helicopter has touched down on the Western street, right in front of a decaying Casa Grande. While the shot is not particularly clear, it again shows the building's awning in its familiar askew position — directly behind the chopper.

The name of the "Whirlybirds" episode, in keeping with the trend on the Western street at the time, was "Ghost Town Flight." The episode premiered Feb. 14, 1957, and was probably shot in 1956.

"Buffalo Bill, Jr." TV series (1955)

Here's yet another production in which the famously askew awning appears, in the "Buffalo Bill, Jr." episode "Red Hawk," which premiered May 28, 1955. For a change, the episode title didn't have the words "Ghost Town" in it.

It's unclear what's happening on the left side of the frame, but something that looks like scaffolding appears to be in place, probably associated with the South Adobe.

If this is the shadow cast by the Hotel, which it probably is, then the scaffolding is just north of the building — where the South Adobe was located. My guess is that the scaffolding is related to the teardown of the town.

Another intriguing shot from the same "Buffalo Bill, Jr." episode captures the perpetually troubled Hotel roof with a massive hole in it. The Hotel roof had its share of problems during the town set's declining years, as you may have seen in this earlier entry on the Hotel.

"Sky King" aerial footage (1955)

The bad condition of the Hotel roof can even be seen from the air, as in this aerial footage shot in 1955 for the TV series "Sky King."

"Sky King" TV series: 'Dead Man's Will" (aired Feb. 22, 1958)

The roof wasn't the Hotel's only problem during the town set's last days. In this shot from 1957, that's a corner of the Hotel at the right of the frame, with a troublesome lean to it. The building appears to be ready to fall over, and it probably was.

The condition of the Hotel in this amazing screen shot is interesting, but it's overshadowed by the two other main elements of the shot: the building in the background and the car in front of it. The car is important because it locks in the time element, but the "wow" factor here belongs to that incredible building in the background — one of the best shots I've seen of the old India Fort set after it sat largely idle for more than 15 years.

1957 Chrysler Windsor

Knowing the model year of the car narrows down the time frame for the shoot to some extent. The 1957 Chrysler Windsor became available in October 1956, so the shoot for "Dead Man's Will" had to take place sometime after that — probably in 1957.

This blurry shot from the same "Sky King" sequence helps flesh out some of the details, showing more of the Hotel — including the exterior staircase on its south face, at top right — along with another glimpse of the Chrysler and the "Wee Willie Winkie" building in the background.

"The Lone Ranger" TV show: "Ghost Town Fury" (aired March 28, 1957)

Another great sequence of shots featuring the same original "Wee Willie Winkie" building appears in "Ghost Town Fury," from the final season of the "Lone Ranger" TV series. Luckily, this was the one season of "The Lone Ranger" that was shot in color.

"The Lone Ranger" (probably shot in 1956)

The building is seen from virtually the same angle in "The Lone Ranger" that would be used a year later in "Sky King," with the camera shooting toward the west from a vantage point between the Saloon and the Hotel. In these "Lone Ranger" shots, the Saloon's exterior staircase is seen at the left of the frame.

"Sky King" (shot circa 1957)

A close look at the "Wee Willie Winkie" building in "Sky King" reveals signs of further deterioration from the condition it was in a year earlier in "The Lone Ranger." These buildings were almost never filmed after 1941, so it's pretty exciting to get any kind of a decent look at them — and the looks we get in both "The Lone Ranger" and "Sky King" are more than decent.

This aerial view from 1955, part of the footage shot for "Sky King" and used in multiple episodes of the series, points out the part of the old "Wee Willie Winkie" set that we're seeing in the "Lone Ranger" and "Sky King" shots.

"Sky King": Casa Grande in 1955, in the episode "Plastic Ghost"

"Sky King" also touched down on the Iverson Western street two years before the "Dead Man's Will" shoot, in 1955, when the TV series became another of the numerous productions to capture Casa Grande in its "awning askew" position. This shot was part of an extensive shoot using the town set for the episode "Plastic Ghost."

"Plastic Ghost" (shot in 1955)

The two major "Sky King" shoots on the Western street produced an interesting comparison. Here's a screen shot from the 1955 shoot for "Plastic Ghost," which premiered Jan. 9, 1956.

"Dead Man's Will" (circa 1957)

Here's a similar shot two years later from "Dead Man's Will." Notice that Casa Grande has vanished from the north end of the street, making the point that the building — which was really a false front — had been torn down sometime between 1955 and 1957, with the dismantling of the bulk of the town still to come.

"Plastic Ghost" — The Hotel in 1955

Shots of the Hotel in the two "Sky King" episodes also tell a key part of the story of the town set's final days. From this angle it appears that the structure was still relatively intact in 1955.

But from another angle used during the same 1955 shoot, we can see that the deterioration of the Hotel's roof has already begun. Also note the lack of balcony railing at this end of the building.

"Dead Man's Will" — The Hotel in 1957, at left

By the time "Sky King" returned to the town set two years later to shoot "Dead Man's Will," even less was left of the roof and the triangular gable at the center of the roofline had begun to collapse.

Down on the ground floor, closeup shots of the Hotel in "Dead Man's Will" revealed a boarded-up window during the circa 1957 shoot for the "Sky King" episode.

"Jailbreakers" promo still — the Hotel, with boarded window

The same boarded-up window is seen in one of the "Jailbreakers" promo shots. In terms of constructing a timeline, we can now say that the Hotel windows were boarded up before Casa Grande was torn down, as Casa Grande was still in place during the "Jailbreakers" shoot.

"The Lone Ranger" — boarded-up windows in "Ghost Town Fury" (shot circa 1956)

The presence of the same boarded-up window in "The Lone Ranger" indicates that the Hotel remained in this condition for some time, at least in 1956-57. Combining this information with Casa Grande's enduring "askew awning," it's safe to say not much sprucing up, if any, was taking place on the Western street from about 1954 on.

"Whirlybirds" (1956): a flooded Western street

Meanwhile, the town set faced another obstacle: flooding. It had been a recurring problem for the town over the years, and a soggy version of the Western street resurfaced in the "Whirlybirds" episode "Ghost Town Flight."

"Whirlybirds" — "Ghost Town Flight"

Combined with the overall level of deterioration of the set by 1956, the flooded version of the town featured in "Ghost Town Flight" appeared to be on its last legs — and indeed, it was.

Shot after shot in the "Whirlybirds" episode displays a soaked and heavily decayed town set. But despite its woeful condition, the set would continue to host productions for about another year.

In this shot we get a graphic image of the Sheriff's Office seemingly about ready to crumble. By contrast, the General Store remains relatively intact.

The show's title "whirlybird" flies over the flooded town in "Ghost Town Flight." Around the same time, a helicopter — possibly the same one — was used to get aerial shots of the flooding.

The helicopter, toward the right of the shot, is reflected in floodwater as it rests at the north end of town, in front of Casa Grande. In the foreground is the Harness Maker building, near the south end of town.

The key features are identified in this version of the "Whirlybirds" shot.

"Prairie Gunsmoke" (1942) — before the Western street was built

Flooding on Sheep Flats, where the Western street stood, was not a new phenomenon. In the early 1940s, before the town set was built, the "pond" created by flooding was occasionally used as a water feature, as in this example from the Bill Elliott B-Western "Prairie Gunsmoke," released by Columbia.

The "Prairie Gunsmoke" sequence included Pond Rock, a stacked-rock formation that later found a long-term hiding place next to the General Store as a fixture of the Western street.

"Rawhide Rangers" (1941) — the adobe fort ... and "Iverson Pond"

In an even earlier appearance by the "pond," the Universal Western "Rawhide Rangers," starring Johnny Mack Brown, incorporated the flooded area into footage of a magnificent adobe fort that stood for a short period of time in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

"Rawhide Rangers": some of the back buildings of the adobe fort

Built from the remnants of the "Wee Willie Winkie" India Fort from 1937, the adobe fort stood just west of where the town set would be built and many of the buildings remained standing while the Western street was in place. One of these buildings in particular is featured higher up in this post, in shots from "The Lone Ranger" and "Sky King."

It's possible the building highlighted here, from "Rawhide Rangers," is the same building seen in the "Lone Ranger" and "Sky King" shots. At this point the comparison is only speculation, but I'm keeping an eye out for additional clues.

The Three Stooges at Iverson Pond in "Have Rocket — Will Travel" (1959)

Once the Western town set was out of the way, with demolition completed by sometime in 1958, the "problem" of flooding in the area became an opportunity for the location ranch, which brought back the Pond as a water feature. Note Pond Rock at the right in the above Three Stooges shot.

Ruta Lee and Burt Reynolds at Iverson Pond in "Zane Grey Theatre" (1961)

A number of TV Westerns featured the Pond in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Pond Rock appears again, on the left this time, in the above shot from the Western anthology series "Zane Grey Theatre."

The shot comes from the "Zane Grey" episode "Man From Everywhere," which premiered April 13, 1961. I spotlighted this sequence in a recent blog post, which you can see by clicking here.

Chuck Connors at Iverson Pond in "The Rifleman" (1962)

The popular TV Western "The Rifleman" also filmed at Iverson Pond for the episode "Conflict," which aired Dec. 24, 1962. The Pond area flourished as a filming location from 1959 to 1963, until the land was sold off for construction of a mobile home park.

"The Virginian" TV series (1963): Iverson Pond

"Strangers at Sundown," an episode of the TV Western "The Virginian" that premiered April 6, 1963, provided a scenic showcase for Iverson Pond — and was one of the last productions to feature it. Later that same year, construction began on the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village.

I want to send out a thank-you to film historian John Emmons for his help rounding up the best shots from "Sky King," which filled in many of the missing pieces in the story of the town set's final days. John's pioneering research several years ago helped get the ball rolling on the study of the Iverson Western street.

This is the final installment in "The Iverson Movie Ranch Western street, one building at a time," a series covering the movie and TV history of each of the major structures making up Iverson's town set, which stood from 1945 to 1957 and appeared in hundreds of productions.

To see all of the posts in the series on the Iverson Western street, please click on the following links:

Part I: Casa Grande
Part II: The Livery Stable
Part III: The Saloon
Part IV: The Hotel
Part V: The General Store 
Part VI: The Barn
Part VII: The Sheriff's Office
Part VIII: The North and South Adobes
Part IX: The Lost Dutchman
Part X: The original north end of town
Part XI: The North and South Towers
Part XII: The Harness Maker
Part XIII: Rainbow Mine Co. 
Part XIV: The Church/Schoolhouse  
Part XV: The Corral Rocks Shack
Part XVI: The decline and fall of the Western street


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful and informative series. You bring Iverson back to life!

Anonymous said...

I am amazed at how quickly these buildings began to deteriorate! Very interesting post. Bill Bram

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the great info you give on this amazing area.

Cliff said...

An amazing amount of time and energy you put into this series for our enjoyment. We will never see the Western town however i feel i've been there thru your efforts to enlighten us with your information. Thanks

Swami Nano said...

Thanks, everyone, for your encouragement and feedback, and thank you to the other researchers who continue to show the way. It's a privilege to be involved in helping to preserve the legacy of the Iverson Movie Ranch, an important and still relatively undocumented piece of our shared cultural heritage.

bigcountry said...

The 1941 and 1956 building pics are definitely the same building.