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.
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• 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).
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Middle Iverson Ranch Set: a history in pictures

Middle Iverson Ranch Set ("Smoky Canyon," 1952 — composite photo)

One of the most important manmade sets on 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 (Highway 118), above the northern end of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, on land that today holds a sprawling 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 region from Newhall to Malibu in September 1970 and destroyed most of Iverson’s remaining sets. The Middle Iverson Ranch Set consisted of a variety of buildings over the years, including a main house, two different barns at different times, a bunkhouse and a small cottage situated right in the middle of the compound. A number of other smaller buildings also came and went over the years.

Here's a pictorial history of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set — click on any of the photos 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.

"Bells of Rosarita" (Republic, 1945)

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

"Rough Riders of Cheyenne" (Republic, 1945)

Another early look at the Middle Iverson Ranch Set layout — rough picture quality but offering a more open view of the set, with the main house toward the left, the early barn at the right, and the cottage just above the horses.

Main House (“Halfway House”)

The main house, often referred to as the Halfway House because it was situated 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 almost three 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 main fronts — one facing southwest and one facing northeast — and both fronts were filmed for movies and TV shows. The house has at times been described as having either three different fronts or four fronts, which isn't exactly accurate. I'll talk more about that below.

"The Millerson Case" (Darmour's "Crime Doctor" series, 1947)

The Middle Iverson Ranch Set's main house — southwest face. This is the most common view of the house.

"Buffalo Bill Rides Again" (Screen Guild, 1947)

Main house (northeast face), along with the cottage, at right. 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.

"The Hills of Utah" (Gene Autry/Columbia, 1951)

Here’s another look at the smaller northeast face of the main house. The "rake-style" pillars supporting the porch are a key identifier for this side of the building. Picket fences came and went over the years, 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.

"Don't Knock the Rock" (1956)

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."

"Don't Knock the Rock": Screen shot corrected for lighting conditions

The "Don't Knock the Rock" scene was shot "day for night," and by correcting the light setting to more accurately depict the daylight conditions from the shoot, we get a much better look at the ranch set. The house appears at the right with hot rods starting to gather in front of it, with the bunkhouse visible at the left.

"Gun Duel in Durango" (United Artists, 1957)

Main house — southwest face. 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 the main house's less widely filmed northwest face (on the left). On a few occasions — but only a few — this side of the house was used as a third "front."

"Black Hills" (Eagle-Lion, 1948): Northwest face of the main house

Western movie location expert Tinsley Yarbrough pointed me to this unusual appearance by the house, in which the northwest face is prominently featured. In this shot the northwest face almost looks as though it includes a garage, which I don't think is the intent as this is a horse movie. At any rate, I still think of this shot as depicting the side of the house rather than the front.

"Black Hills": Guests arrive at the southwest face of the main house

This shot from the same movie tends to support the suggestion that the southwest face, as usual, represents the front of the house, as guests arrive here and enter the house through the front door.

"The Real McCoys" TV show (pilot episode, 1957): Northeast face of the main house

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. That's the McCoys driving up in the family jalopy, having just made the trip from West Virginia to their new California farmhouse. Both in the show and in the filming of the show, the family's new home was in the San Fernando Valley.

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 cottage 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 an 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.

The McCoy family's new home at 40 Acres in Culver City

This shot is NOT taken at Iverson, but on a new set in Culver City that became the substitute for the original Middle Iverson house seen in the pilot. Following the pilot a new set was created that closely resembled the northeast face of the Middle Iverson main house. This new set, built on the studio backlot, was used as the family home for the remainder of the series.

Another view of the set on the backlot at 40 Acres, used for most of "The Real McCoys"

The rake-style roof supports make it clear that the new set in Culver City was designed to closely resemble the Middle Iverson Ranch Set seen in the "Real McCoys" pilot. The use of the rake-style supports was an effective visual trick — it took some careful comparisons to determine that this is not the original building.

"Panic in Year Zero" (American International, 1962)

One of the more intriguing appearances by the Middle Iverson house — aka Halfway House — is in the 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 (three photos up from this one), you should be able to spot similarities such as the two distinctive pillars supporting the roof over 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 cottage 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.


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.


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.

"Gun Street" (United Artists, 1961)

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 cottage, 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."

Bigfoot Subdues Dracula

Click here to read the strange story of the Middle Iverson Ranch Set's unbelievably weird rock feature Bigfoot Subdues Dracula.