Western RoundUp: Corriganville
Some of the best known western locations are outside of Southern California … places like Lone Pines Alabama Hills, further north in California, or Monument Valley, where John Ford shot westerns on the Arizona-Utah border.
However, hundreds of westerns, typically those with smaller budgets, have been shot on Southern California film ranches. Some of these ranches were owned by the studios and served as an additional “backlot”, while other ranches, such as Iverson or Jauregui, were independent entities that made money and enabled the studios to film film by film.
One of the most famous film ranches in Southern California was Corriganville in the Simi Valley. The ranch belonged to actor Ray “Crash” Corrigan, who bought the land in 1937.
Corrigan was known to play Tucson Smith in Republic’s Three mesquiters Western film series alongside John Wayne and others; he later appeared in Monogram’s Range Busters films, in which his character was nicknamed off-screen, Crash Corrigan.
In addition to being a busy movie ranch, Corriganville was a theme park from 1949 to 1965 when Corrigan sold the property to Bob Hope. It was something of a forerunner to Universal Studios in Universal City, which opened to the public in 1964, just as Corriganville was about to go out of business. It also had some similarities to Knott’s Berry Farm Ghost Town in Buena Park.
During its years as a western movie attraction, visitors were able to tour the fort that was built for John Fords Fort Apache (1948), explore western sets, watch stunt performing shows, enjoy live music, and more.
Large bush fires swept through the property in the 1970s and destroyed the buildings; All that remains of Corriganville today are concrete slabs, masonry and a lake for filming water scenes. The property was purchased by the town of Simi Valley in 1988 and is now a public regional park with several hiking trails and picnic areas.
I recently visited Corriganville for the first time and found it very interesting. While sharing some photos from my visit, I will also discuss some of the films that were made when Corriganville was in its prime.
Above is a photo of the Fort Apache Set that was later reused in Ambush (1950) and many other films and television series. If you look at my photo below, the rocks in the background exactly match those behind the forts. It was pretty exciting to know that I was standing where John Wayne, Henry Fonda, George O’Brien and Ward Bond once went.
Here is more scenery from the general area where Fort Apache filmed:
One of the most interesting things about Corriganville is the remains of a small “lake” where films like Columbia Pictures’ Jungle jim Series were shot once.
The lake is sometimes referred to as “Robin Hood Lake”, “Sherwood Lake” or “Jungle Jim Lake”. A room with thick windows allowed underwater photography; the building remains, but the glass from the windows is gone.
A door could be slid down to dam the lake and raise the water level as needed:
Another view from a different angle. Some sources indicate that scenes for The African queen (1951) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) were among the films that were shot here; If this information is correct, I suspect it was a brief overlay that was needed to complement the extensive filming outside of the state.
This view looks across the lake to the “Stunt Rock”, from which Jungle Jim (Johnny Weissmuller) would dive into the water:
At the end of the lake was the Susana Pass Bridge, seen in The three musketeers (1948), The swordsman (1948) and the Roy Rogers Westerns Susanna Pass (1949), and Twilight in the sierras (1950).
Trail Blazer Cave was a man-made cave that was located here; it is named for its appearance in Arizona whirlwind (1944), part of the Trail Blazers film series with Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, and Bob Steele. The cave also appeared in Corrigan’s own The range busters (1940) and later in Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) with John Carradine. The refugee TV series starring David Janssen were also shot here.
Today visitors can still see concrete slabs where western city buildings once stood. In the distance you can see the masonry of a former horse stable.
A closer look at the old barn area. Snow fire (1958) with Don Megowan was one of the westerns filmed here.
Another area in which the remains of the stage construction have overgrown in the decades since the last fire:
Western television series filmed in Corriganville in their prime The adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, and The Lone Ranger.
Today, Corriganville is a Ventura County’s historic landmark that is open to the public for free, and visitors can stroll the trails that once rode cowboy heroes.
For those considering visiting Corriganville Park, it is open from morning to night. There is free parking with portable toilets next to the parking lot. Picnic tables are available in several areas. Dogs kept on a leash are allowed. I spent just under three hours walking multiple routes and pausing to take photos; Most of the floor is pretty flat, but the Fort Apache Area is hilly.
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found on her blog Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she has been writing about films since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. As a lifelong film fan, Laura loves classics like Disney, film noir, musicals and westerns. She regularly reports on classic film festivals in Southern California. Laura will write everything about westerns at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.