Once Upon a Time in Paramount Ranch

This article was published by the National Park Service

Lights! Camera! Action!

American Cinema plays a starring role in the cultural life of the United States and the world. Since the dawn of motion pictures in the “Silent Film” era, Paramount Ranch has served as a setting for hundreds of cinematic productions.

During the late 1920s, Paramount Pictures purchased 2,700 acres of the old Rancho Las Virgenes for use as a “movie ranch.” The diverse landscape proved to be the real star of the show. It offered film makers the freedom to create distant locales such as a colonial Massachusetts in The Maid of Salem, ancient China in The Adventures of Marco Polo, a South Seas island in Ebb Tide and numerous western locations including San Francisco in Wells Fargo. The art of illusion was mastered on the landscape.

The golden era of movie making at Paramount Ranch came to an end when changes to the studio system prompted Paramount Pictures to sell the ranch. In 1953, Paramount Ranch found renewed life as a film location when William Hertz bought the southeast portion of the area. He was a big time fan of the western genre, so he built a permanent western town utilizing old prop storage sheds that Paramount Pictures had previously built. As a result, television companies began producing westerns at the ranch such as The Cisco Kid and Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre. In 1955, William Hertz sold the property and the Paramount Racetrack was soon built and opened a year later. Some considered it to be highly dangerous as 3 fatal accidents had occurred and was soon prompted to closed down just 18 months after its opening. Most of the track can still be seen through the grasslands of the park today.

From 1957 to 1980, the ranch changed ownership several times, but filmmaking continued. In 1980, the National Park Service purchased a portion of the original Paramount property and revitalized the old movie set. From 1992 to 1997, Paramount Ranch was used as the setting for the television show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Today, the ranch is open to the public and commercial productions – big and small – are seen from time to time. The area is also used for weddings, special occasions, photography shoots and receptions.

Our photography session was shot at the “Old Western Town” section of Paramount Ranch. Below are a couple images from the shoot: