Gregg "Cheyenne" Anderson,
Corriganville historian and tour guide
The difference maker at Corriganville is tour guide Gregg Anderson, who's one of those obsessive movie historian types (ahem ... like anyone we know?), and boy does Gregg know his subject matter. Gregg's the Corriganville counterpart to folk like me and a few of my pals who obsess over Iverson. He clearly has done his homework — enthusiastically, I'm sure. Gregg digs into the details, delights in new discoveries and passes along his wealth of insights to anyone lucky enough to find their way to one of his monthly tours.
Around that same time, the rest of Corriganville — fortunately, the best part, from a historical perspective — was preserved as a park. Gregg's tours, run through the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, cover the portion of the park where the bulk of the filming took place. His accomplice on the tours is Dave "Deadwood" Hugo, who hits the right notes (including the appropriately sour ones) as Gregg's B-Western-style sidekick.
Dave "Deadwood" Hugo,
Not a whole lot is left of the original Corriganville movie sets, with the stone foundation of an old barn being one of the few remnants that rise above ground level after a series of fires devastated the Santa Susana Mountains in the 1970s. But like the Iverson Movie Ranch in nearby Chatsworth, many of Corriganville's most distinctive landmarks — its rocks — have survived.
Corriganville's Gorilla Rock rises above
the stone foundation of "Barn No. 2"
Don Megowan and Barn No. 2 in "Snowfire"
The above screen shot, from the low-budget 1958 family movie "Snowfire," shows what that stone foundation looked like back when it held up a working movie barn.
A closeup of the surviving foundation shows
that the stones match the "Snowfire" shot
As a film historian specializing in the Iverson Movie Ranch, I've been aware of what might be called a mild natural rivalry between Iverson and Corriganville. With the two movie ranches operating just a few miles apart — and being the two busiest movie location ranches during the heyday of the B-Western and early television — they would have been competitors for location work in early Westerns in particular.
Corriganville's main street, Silvertown,
back in the filming and theme park days
Corriganville wasn't a theme park in the way that Universal Studios — which may have had something to do with driving Corriganville out of business — was and is a theme park. Universal, a fancy, modern operation more in the mold of Disneyland or Magic Mountain, is fun enough in its own way, I suppose. But for all its mass commercial appeal and huge crowds, something is missing. Places like Universal Studios and Magic Mountain, where the focus is on the sizzle, on keeping ahead of the competition and on cramming as many visitors as possible through the turnstiles, tend to wind up with a lot of engineered plastic and not much soul. Corriganville weren't nuthin' like that — it was rough and ramshackle and made of wood, like the real West, and there was something exciting and authentic about it — even if its reason to be was to create the illusion of the West in the movies.
Live shootout in the streets of Corriganville
A routine stroll down Corriganville's main street, grabbing some grub or checking out the souvenir stores with Mom, flipped in a single defining moment into a Wild West adventure, as shots rang out, shattering the calm on the street and raising the hairs on the back of your neck. These were loud, startling, scary shots, with serious-looking bad guys firing off serious-sounding movie blanks — the kind that made a bang so ferocious that to this day I still think it may be the loudest thing I've ever heard. It was on that terrifying and thrilling note that the action began, and the next thing you knew, a realistic movie-style shootout was playing out all over town.
Stuntman Buddy Mize meets his fate
during a live shootout at Corriganville
Corriganville was one "wow" moment after another. Guys would be shot off rooftops, or get gunned down and twirl over hitching rails before they hit the ground. I'd be pumping adrenaline of the purest kind ... little kid adrenaline ... like when you meet Santa Claus, only in some ways ... even better.
Ray "Crash" Corrigan
with young visitors to Corriganville
Ray "Crash" Corrigan, a stuntman and B-movie actor who set up the place as a filming location in the late 1930s and had the foresight to turn it into a family attraction on weekends, recruited his stuntman and actor buddies to put on those fierce shootouts in the streets of Corriganville's Silvertown.
One of the old hanging trees still in place at Corriganville
They even put on hangings at one of the big oak trees at the end of town. It wasn't gory or grim — it was about showing how it was done in the movies. Still, it was cool, to say the least.
Corriganville tour, April 2013
Fast-forward about 50 years to 2013. I took my first official Corriganville tour as a grown-up earlier this month, and even though I've already been studying Corriganville myself for a few years (an inevitable byproduct of studying Iverson), I learned plenty.
Mystery rock — mystery solved! Canyon Rock,
not the usual angle, in "Down Dakota Way"
One of the highlights for me was finding a mystery rock I've been seeing in chase scenes in old Westerns for years. It turns out it's another angle on the landmark Corriganville rock known as Canyon Rock.
That's Gene Autry in the above shot, peering around Canyon Rock to get a look at the outlaw hideout in "Rim of the Canyon" (1949). You may be able to match the above two shots. One clue is a circular marking in the rock that appears near the right edge of both photos, about two-thirds of the way up.
Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District website. It may not be immediately apparent where to find the Corriganville tours —the thing that worked best for me was going under the "recreation" tab and scrolling down to the "age 50+ brochure."
The brochure that you can download there lists a number of activities designed for people 50 and up, but if you haven't hit that milestone yet, I wouldn't worry about it. No one's checking IDs, and I'm reasonably sure all ages are welcome. We had a few youngsters on our recent tour.
The current brochure shows the following tour dates for spring and summer 2013:
Saturday, June 15 (10 a.m.-noon)
Saturday, July 20 (10 a.m.-noon)
Saturday, Aug. 17 (10 a.m.-noon)
Even though the tours are listed as 10 a.m.-noon, they can run closer to three hours. The hiking is non-strenuous, and the setting is beautiful. Meet in the Corriganville parking lot, 7001 Smith Road in Simi Valley.
You can also call the park district at 805-584-4400. When I left a message there, they called me back a day or two later and I reserved my spot without any problem. If all else fails, just show up! Cheyenne and Deadwood will look after you.
click here to read some additional blog posts about the site.
Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the usual subject matter of this blog, the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Bell Ranch, Pioneertown and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.