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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Secrets of the Saddlehorn Relay Station revealed

Saddlehorn Relay Station looking south toward Garden of the Gods

Some of the biggest mysteries surrounding the Saddlehorn Relay Station, a heavily filmed movie set that stood north of the Garden of the Gods in Chatsworth, Calif., from about 1940-1970, have recently been solved.

When I reported on the old building earlier this year — a post you can read by clicking here — I raised a number of questions, chief among them being a familiar one: Which movie was it built for?

"Ghost Valley Raiders" (Republic, 1940)

Film historian Tinsley Yarbrough came up with what appears to be the answer to that question when he spotted the "Squaw Creek Relay Station" in the old Donald "Red" Barry B-Western "Ghost Valley Raiders."

"Squaw Creek Relay Station" in Iverson family photo (1939 or early 1940)

Some readers may recall from the earlier post that the "Squaw Creek Relay Station" turned up in an old Iverson family photo — and indications are that the building was newly minted at the time.

"Ghost Valley Raiders": Saddlehorn Relay Station as the "Squaw Creek Relay Station"

If "Ghost Valley Raiders" marks the first use of the relay station, the set would have been built by Republic Pictures — which makes sense given the studio's close relationship with the Iverson Ranch.

While almost all of the Hollywood studios filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch at least occasionally, Republic made by far the most pictures at the ranch — estimated at more than 350, mostly B-Westerns and serials.

"Daredevils of the West" (Republic serial, 1943): The Upper Iverson Movie Ranch

A steady flow of business from Republic, founded in 1935, was one of the reasons the Iverson family expanded the ranch in the mid- to late 1930s, acquiring land to the north that would become the Upper Iverson. 

Original position of the relay station — west of Batman Rock in "Ghost Valley Raiders"

One of the big revelations from recent research into the Saddlehorn Relay Station is that the building had two different locations. When it was first built, it stood in close proximity to Batman Rock.

"Batman and Robin" (Columbia serial, 1949)

Batman Rock gets its name from Columbia's old "Batman" serials of the 1940s, where Batman — played back then by Robert Lowery — once struck a pose in front of the rock.

While the rock's remarkable features were carved by natural forces, its profile appears to draw inspiration from the "heads" side of a Buffalo Nickel.

Batman Rock in modern times

Batman Rock remains in place today, just off Redmesa Road at Horizon Place in the Cal West Townhomes. Due to the growth of surrounding foliage, some of its old "Buffalo Nickel" aura has been stripped away.

The Relay Station in its later location

Within about a year of its construction, the Saddlehorn Relay Station — known simply as the "Two-Story House" at the time — was moved to a second location. Batman Rock does not appear in this photo, as the rock and the relay station are now some distance apart. 

Saddlehorn Relay Station and the Saddlehorn area in 1952

Here's the layout of the Saddlehorn area, including the Saddlehorn Relay Station, as it appears in an aerial photograph from 1952 — one of the best overviews available from the filming period at Iverson.

The relay station can be seen in the aerial, positioned at the site where it stood for three decades. Even though the building burned down in 1970, it seems fair to call this its "permanent" location.

Running diagonally across the landscape is Iverson Ranch Road, which was the main road into the Iverson Ranch.

Batman Rock is the most prominent rock feature in the immediate area. The position of the rock's heavily filmed "Buffalo Nickel" west face is noted here in yellow.

This diagram indicates the approximate position of the relay station when it was first built, probably in late 1939, along with the set's later location a short distance to the northwest.

The building's two locations: Where they would be in 2017 (Google aerial)

The positions noted on the 1952 aerial translate approximately to these two locations in the current landscape. The area was heavily graded when the Cal West Townhomes were built, so nothing from the old days lines up well with anything in the modern world.

Batman Rock and in particular its distinctive west face remain essentially intact, although, as I mentioned up above, the feature's former glory is now partially shrouded in foliage.

The Saddlehorn Relay Station and the entire Saddlehorn area are named for Saddlehorn Rock, which is tucked back among the condos. It's a little out of the way these days, but it's still possible to get a good look at it.

Saddlehorn Rock in recent times, proving itself worthy of the name

Of all the rocks at Iverson that are named after real-world objects, this is one of them.

"Hands Across the Rockies" (Columbia, 1941): Saddlehorn Relay Station

The relay station did not stay long in its original location. By the time Columbia used it as a set for the Bill Elliott B-Western "Hands Across the Rockies" in 1941, the building had been moved to its "permanent" site.

The Saddlehorn Relay Station was filmed from all sides, but the most commonly used side was distinguished by an overhanging second story and three second-story windows. I think of this as the front of the building.

1952 aerial map: Arrows show the orientation of the building's front face

The building was rotated about a quarter-turn when it was moved. In its original position the "front" faced northwest, as seen in red here, but after the move it faced northeast, as depicted in light blue.

"Hands Across the Rockies": The camera is shooting toward the west

The hills in the background confirm that the "Hands Across the Rockies" shot is taken with the camera shooting toward the west. The building has been moved to its permanent location, where the front now faces northeast.

I can see why they would have hastily relocated the building from its original spot — a location that strikes me as not having been fully thought out.

As I mentioned above, the movie ranch's main access road ran right through the area. Iverson Ranch Road probably had more traffic on it than any other road on the ranch.

This would have created traffic problems between production teams filming the relay station and those trying to get to the ranch's other locations. The movie ranch was a busy place back in the early '40s, and it would have been the norm for several movies to be in production on the ranch at any one time.

As soon as it became apparent that the new relay station had a future as a movie set, it made sense to move it off the main road.

That's my theory, anyway.

Rare photo of the Saddlehorn Relay Station in its original location (1940)

It was Tinsley Yarbrough who first suggested, years ago, that the building had two different locations. It has been a hard theory to prove, but the above photo, whose origin is unclear, provides a number of clues.

The position of the Garden of the Gods to the south, relative to the relay station, makes it clear that the front of the building is facing northwest at this early stage in its evolution.

The "Squaw Creek Relay Station" sign can still be seen, although it's only partially attached. This pinpoints the date of the photo as 1940 — soon after the filming of "Ghost Valley Raiders," but before the building was tidied up.

The small shed seen in the picture does not figure into this discussion. This shed can be seen near the relay station in many productions, but it was easily moved and wound up in a variety of locations.

Undated photo of the Saddlehorn Relay Station in its later position

Comparing the 1940 photo with this one taken later, also seen at the top of this post, we see overviews of the relay station in its two locations, including two different alignments with the Garden of the Gods.

Also visible in the 1940 photo is a section of Iverson Ranch Road running past the relay station, revealing the uneasy proximity of the road to the front of the set.

In the later photo we can again identify sections of Iverson Ranch Road, but now the road runs behind the relay station and is situated some distance to the south of the building.

Saddlehorn Relay Station in "The Plunderers" (Republic, 1948)

Some readers may want to check out my previous post about the Saddlehorn Relay Station, from back in January — before some of the mysteries discussed here were solved. Please click here to see that post.

Can we talk about "the Mattress"?

I've also recently published a follow-up to this post that focuses on a feature appearing in this photo. You may have already noticed the unusual feature in the background, in front of the guy at the left of the frame.

I call it "the Mattress" for a reason that I think will become obvious if it isn't already: It looks like a mattress. It has an interesting story, which you can read by clicking here.

1 comment:

Cliff said...

Don’t leave us hanging!! Great stuff.